(Australian Associated Press)
The mental health and wellbeing of young Australians could fall further behind other countries due to a “gap” in support services for children in pre-school and primary school, a federal mental health body warns.
The National Mental Health Commission has repeated its call for more investment in children from birth to 12 years after data released this week showed thousands of four to 17-year-olds have a clinically significant mental health problem.
Commission Chair, Lucy Brogden says while much progress has been made on youth mental health, they are concerned the support systems for the very young are under-serviced.
“The network that has been built across the country through services such as headspace is really doing a great job in supporting our adolescents but we have a real gap in our services to that group from zero to 12,” said Ms Brogden.
The development of local ‘childspaces’ or wellbeing centres for vulnerable children is one initiative the commission would like to see the Primary Health Networks invest in.
“It’s also about looking at school counsellors, building strong supports in the community, both medical and social supports, increasing participation in our kids in physical activity, ensuring aspects of diet are well managed, and that the significance of sleep is well understood in terms of wellbeing,” said Ms Brogden.
The Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth’s five-year snapshot, released on Sunday, showed mental health continues to be a growing issue for young Australians.
In 2014-15, 15.4 per cent of 18- to 24-year-olds suffered high or very high psychological distress – up from 11.8 per cent in 2011.
The ACRACY report also showed Australia ranked in the bottom third of OECD countries on numerous issues that impact on mental health and wellbeing.
Australia ranked 40th out of 49 OECD countries on bullying and 26th out of 34 on feelings of belonging in school.
On youth suicide, Australia was ranked 23rd out of 37 OECD countries.
Dr Peggy Brown, the commission’s Chief Executive Officer, says intervention must start before a child reaches adolescence.
“There’s overwhelming evidence about the lifetime benefits of investing in prevention and early intervention from birth to 12 years,” Dr Brown said.
“Experiences during the early years, including in utero, have lifelong effects on children’s later achievements, social adjustment, mental and physical health and life expectancy,” she said.