Briefing paper

Childhood mental health: promotion, prevention and early intervention

Child mental health Children Australia
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Good mental health is essential for children's learning, social development, self-esteem and resilience to stress throughout the life-course. Over half a million Australian children have significant mental health problems. This Policy Brief outlines ways that services can better support families to prevent mental health problems from developing in the first place.

In this brief we describe childhood mental health problems under the umbrella of externalising problems, i.e. aggression, oppositional defiance, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and internalising problems, i.e. anxiety, depression.

Why is this issue important?

Children's mental health problems have high human and financial costs for families and society, in both the short and long term (Barlow & Stewart-Brown, 2000; Bor et al, 2004; Sanders et al, 2000; Stewart-Brown, 1998). Such costs include social problems and school learning difficulties, along with clinical treatment and remedial education services.

Childhood mental health problems often continue into adolescence and then adulthood, adding further costs related to areas such as school dropout, substance abuse, poor vocational outcomes, family violence and suicide, along with sick leave, unemployment and crime. Adult mental health problems then affect the next generation of children. For example, children whose parents have depression and anxiety are six times more likely to develop these problems themselves (Beardslee & Wheelock, 1994; Biedel & Turner, 1997).

The Council of Australian Government (COAG) (2006) has identified mental health as a priority area.  

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