“There is very strong evidence to say that if we start focusing on children, we then get a much better proactive approach to dealing with mental health problems. Half of all lifetime mental illnesses emerge in childhood.”
General practitioners, who say mental health problems are now the number one reason Australians come to see them, will co-design the new skills training – one area focused on infants through to four-year-olds, and the other on five to 12-year-olds.
Mr Robinson said mental health problems were increasingly common among Australian children, and could be linked to family violence and parents’ drug and alcohol problems.
“Often children manifest behavioural problems, simple things like temper tantrums… but at the more extreme level often those are indicators of other family issues,” he said.
“What we want is for GPs and other professionals, if they recognise those problems in the child, to be able to look more broadly at the family system to see whether in fact there are other issues that are maintaining the behaviour.”
The Morrison government has made tackling youth suicide a key priority and is working on a children’s mental health strategy.
Australian Bureau of Statistics data shows that while the nation’s suicide rate has increased by 13 per cent over the past 10 years, for young people aged 15 to 19 it has increased by more than 70 per cent.
Of the 458 under-25s to take their own lives last year, 22 were children aged 14 years old or younger.
Emerging Minds will release its framework for building the capabilities of health and community workers on Monday, during Mental Health Week.
The framework calls for an approach encompassing GPs, paediatricians, playgroups, addiction treatment services, foster care support agencies, disability providers and other health and community services.
“The aim is that the resources will help professionals feel supported and confident to work with infants, children and their families to identify, assess and support children at risk of, or experiencing, mental health difficulties,” Mr Hunt said.
Mr Robinson said all children would experience sadness from normal life events, such as the death of a pet, and that parents could help them navigate their emotions.
“When something like that happens, it’s important that the family has a process of dealing with that and talking to the child about that,” he said.
The aim is that the resources will help professionals feel supported and confident.
Health Minister Greg Hunt
“Know your child, listen to your child, observe your child … A parent needs to consider those in a balanced way.”
He said parents should be mindful of limiting their children’s exposure to traumatic, violent and distressing news events, and support them through any worries or questions that might arise, to help them process such information in a healthy way.
The federal government launched Emerging Minds in 2016 and has funded it until June 2021 with $38.7 million. The organisation works in partnership with the Australian National University, the Parenting Research Centre, the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners and Australian Institute of Family Studies.
If you need support, contact Lifeline 13 11 14 or Kids Helpline 1800 551 800
Dana is health and industrial relations reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.