NFP Report Sparks Calls to Make Youth Mental Health A National Priority
28 February 2018 at 5:24 pm
Australia’s mental health commissioner has called for child and youth mental health to be a national priority, after a not-for-profit report revealed Australia ranks in the “middle of the pack” among developed nations on most key measures of child well being.
The 2018 Report Card: The Wellbeing of Young Australians, which was released on Monday by the Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth (ARACY), tracked how young Australians were faring in international comparisons against 75 indicators of health and wellbeing.
The report card found many indicators were “heading in the wrong direction” with increasing rates of mental illness among Australians aged 18 to 24 years, a fall in immunisation rates, and extra obstacles facing young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians across most measures.
ARACY CEO Stephen Bartos summarised the report card as “Australia: trying hard, could do better”.
“Every young person deserves a chance to succeed in life. We are doing well by some measures, but on far too many the data shows large numbers of Australian kids are missing out. A particular concern is too many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander kids are not getting a fair go,” Bartos said.
“Because the issues children and young people face are complex, solutions must be integrated.
“ARACY encourages cooperation between state and federal governments, researchers, the community sector, and young Australians to ensure that every taxpayer dollar is being used to maximum effect based on evidence of what works.”
Among the findings the report card showed increased levels of high or very high psychological distress amongst 18 to 24 year olds (15.4 per cent up from 11.8 per cent in 2011) and suicide rates amongst 15 to 25 year olds.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians were more than three times more likely to commit suicide than non-Indigenous youth and more than three times more likely to die of injury before the age of 14.
Speaking in the wake of the report the National Mental Health Commission CEO Dr Peggy Brown AO, said it was vital for Australia to invest in mental health for children under 12 years.
“There’s overwhelming evidence about the lifetime benefits of investing in prevention and early intervention from birth to 12 years,” Brown said.
“Although we’ve seen significant and vital investment in adolescent mental health through headspace, corresponding investment for children is slower. Only recently, funding was announced for a new integrated school-based Mental Health in Education initiative for Australian children from early learning centres to the end of secondary school.
“Many issues which go on to develop into mental health problems in adolescence can be identified, prevented and managed if picked up earlier in childhood.”
Brown also recommended links with maternal and child health services as fundamental to an integrated approach.
“The national approach needed is for better coordination and integration of services among different siloed providers to enable a healthy start to life for children,” she said.
“For example, Primary Health Networks and local communities could scope the development of local ‘childspaces’, or children’s wellbeing centres for vulnerable children, not as separate services but to be integrated into early childhood and other services.”
She said it was essential to build resilience and targeted interventions for families with children, both collectively and with those with emerging behavioural issues, distress and mental health difficulties.
“We know that 75 per cent of all cases of mental illness will occur by the time Australians reach 25 years old. When you’re young, the onset of mental illness disrupts every facet of your life – school, family, social life and job prospects – and your future potential,” Brown said.
“There’s an estimated 560,000 Australian children and adolescents (4 to 17 years old) in Australia who have a clinically significant mental health problem and many of them are at increased risk for suicidal behaviour.
“Mental ill-health starts even younger. 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.”
As well as youth mental health, education also came under the spotlight.
According to the report only 79 per cent of year 10 students reached the international baseline level for maths in 2015, compared with 87 per cent of students in 2006.
The findings prompted federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham to call for parents to do more.
Speaking on Sky News he said outside of the teaching influence, “an even bigger factor in terms of student performance is the home environment and the learning environment”.
“The research is very clear that the greatest factor for student outcome relates to the home environment, the educational attainment rates previously of parents, the focus that’s spent in home on reading and learning and activities there. Then, of course, the school has a huge role to play as well. And in many cases, schools will overcome disadvantage in homes, but you can see strong correlation points there which is what we have to work very hard to overcome,” Birmingham said.
Bartos told Pro Bono News ARACY was pleased the report had resonated “in the halls of power”.
“The Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth (ARACY) exists to bring the best research and evidence to bear in solving the problems faced by young Australians,” he said.
“The report cards we’ve issued since 2008 embody this. Our report cards show how our kids are faring, not in light of opinion or conjecture, but in the cold clear light of facts.
“This latest report card is a great example of a small NGO being able to have a national impact. It has generated national media highlighting issues such as the alarming incidence of mental illness among children, the fact Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander kids continue to be left behind, and the need to lift our game in education. And most importantly, it’s having an impact in the halls of power.
“We have seen the Education Minister, Simon Birmingham, referring to the report card in the context of looking for ways to help parents be more engaged with their child’s education, a move that evidence shows can be the equivalent of providing a child with an extra two years of education. And we have seen Australia’s mental health commissioner, Dr Peggy Brown, calling for more action to help children under the age of 12 facing growing rates of mental illness.”