Who is this resource for?
This resource is for all practitioners who work with parents. It has a particular focus on supporting parents to consider the mental health of their primary school-aged children.
The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, on the back of the Black Summer bushfires has had a significant impact on the mental health of many Australian children. The pandemic has seen major disruptions to elements that are crucial to children’s social and emotional wellbeing, including interruptions to education and routines, forced distancing from family members and support networks, fear of the future, and increased social isolation.
As the year has progressed data has increasingly pointed to the negative mental health toll that these disruptions and uncertainties are taking. A recent Monash University study found that depression diagnoses in children and young people under 19 had doubled compared to the same period in 2019 (Monash University, 2020) and anxiety and depression are becoming increasing issues for primary school-aged children. More children are exhibiting signs of mental health difficulties, yet less than half of those who need support are accessing specific mental health services (Oberklaid, 2020).
The events of 2020 have seen a significant increase in children contacting Kids Helpline for mental health support. From March 1 to September 30, 285,636 children reached out for services – an increase of 22% from the same period in 2019 (yourtown and Australian Human Rights Commission, 2020b). Of the children who accessed counselling services, 18% were 5–12 years old, an increase of 3% from the previous reporting period. About three quarters of these contacts were related directly to mental health, emotional wellbeing and family relationship issues (yourtown and the Australian Human Rights Commission, 2020a).
As children’s needs for mental health support increase, parents continue to report a lack of confidence in identifying and responding to concerns. The Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne’s National Child Health Poll shows only 35% of parents believe they could recognise mental health symptoms in their children, while only 44% reported being confident of knowing where to go for help if their children were experiencing social, behavioural and emotional problems (The Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne, 2019). Many parents describe long waiting lists for specialist child mental health services.
So, if the current reality is increasing mental health difficulties in primary school-aged children, a lack of confidence from parents that they can support their children, and lengthy waits for specialist services, what role can practitioners outside of the mental health sector play? How can a general practitioner, social worker or allied health professional have conversations with a parent who is concerned about their child’s social and emotional wellbeing, in ways that support preventative or early intervention strategies?