14 August 2019

Response to Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt’s announcement of a National Child Mental Health Strategy

Emerging Minds welcomes today’s announcement from Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt that a National Child Mental Health Strategy will be developed and implemented, believing that this will deliver early action early in life to create the best outcomes for children and their families.

With half of all lifetime mental health conditions emerging in childhood, Emerging Minds has been advocating for a dedicated child mental health strategy since 1995.

Emerging Minds Director Brad Morgan says prevention and early intervention measures are internationally proven to deliver lasting effects for children if delivered early enough, however in Australia only a small percentage of children access adequate support.

“One in seven children under the age of 12 experience a mental health condition which can range from toddlers with attachment difficulties, disruptive behaviour from age three onwards and depression, anxiety and trauma becoming evident from as early as age six,” Mr Morgan said.

“However, of those experiencing a mental health condition, only one in six of those children receive help.

“Our health system is not designed to respond to emerging issues in childhood and when help is sought, assistance is often delayed, insufficient or directed at children with more serious issues.

“As the prevalence of mental health issues in childhood rises, the significant gap in accessing support deepens. A dedicated national child mental health strategy will help to address those gaps and break the cycle.”

Mr Morgan said improving children’s mental health also required a focus on the greatest influence on a child’s resilience – their relationship with parents and other significant adults in their lives.

“A parent’s emotional and physical health can impact on their relationship with their child and that can flow onto the child’s sense of self and wellbeing,” he said.

“Currently one in four children have a parent living with mental illness. Many families also experience bereavement, serious illness, financial adversity, family and domestic violence and other vulnerabilities which all can impact on a child’s emotional wellbeing. The strategy must reinforce the role professionals working with families can play in examining how these issues affect the parent’s relationship with the child so they can support the child’s emotional wellbeing and development.

“International research and practice shows us that we can improve children’s mental health outcomes by building the capacity of health and welfare professionals who work with parents to understand how these issues affect the child and take a wider approach that also supports the child.

“Ideally this strategy will also encourage a whole of family approach where adult and child services work together to achieve the best outcomes for infants and children. Early intervention and prevention is key.”