The National Mental Health Commissioner, Dr Peggy Brown, has called on all levels of government to invest further in the mental health needs for children from birth to 12 years.
Speaking to The Mind Reader, Dr Brown said that the commission’s latest call for action is aimed to help children identify and remedy mental health concerns early, rather than let them manifest into larger issues later in life.
“We think there is a strong argument for working with children at a very young age to identify any issues with their mental health and make appropriate interventions which can help prevent mental illness and any impacts later in life.
“We know that based on OECD research, Australia is behind the other OECD nations in the areas of mental distress and suicide for young people. So much of the way we help people with their mental health and wellness in Australia is based around prevention, so why should the mental health needs of young children be any different?” said Dr Brown.
Dr Brown also said that the extra funding is needed not only for the child in need but also for parents.
“Some of the investment is targeted towards parents too. We need to take a longer-term view here and not a short-term view. Investment early on can improve outcomes in adult life. Addressing a child’s mental health concerns when they are children and not letting it go into their later life has significant impacts in their interactions with the youth justice system, their mental health, their employment and their physical health conditions. Investing early can be a wise choice and you reap the benefits now and in fact, decades down the track too,” said Dr Brown.
Dr Brown recommended that any new funding needs to be apart of an integrated approach across the gamut of service providers who would work with parents and children who may be at risk.
“This is not just about the infant or young child, this is about the family and the environment in which they live. It’s about access points. Parents go to a variety of health practitioners and services; it’s about identification and action, the concept of the ‘no wrong door’ really applies here. There should be a way in which we can work together when people are identified so that there is a way to support them to get them to the services they need. We need to break down the silos and learn how to work better together.
“We know that there are some really great practitioners and service providers out there already doing this stuff, but that is not always the case everywhere, we need to make sure that health practitioners and service providers are all well-equipped, comfortable and capable of helping a child with mental health concerns and their family,” said Dr Brown.
Dr Brown believes that should there be an increase in funding for 0-12-year olds, then it should be spent on local community driven and informed strategies, that works across all key stakeholder groups and communities who would be involved.
“Structure the approach on a regional basis through the Primary Health Networks. They can tap into their regional hubs. Through the Primary Health Networks, they can create a Regional Mental Health Needs Assessment and Plan. As part of this it is important to get everyone in the community together to get their needs heard. It’s also important that any federally run investment links in with the state services who work with parents and children. What we are talking about here is a whole of community response and connecting everyone up, that’s how we will create real and effective change,” said Dr Brown.