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Beyond Blue Julia Gillard launches new research project for childhood adversity and mental health

Institute News
Published: 
Monday, May 27, 2019 - 11:57am

The Chair of Beyond Blue, The Hon. Julia Gillard AC, will has launched a cutting-edge research project taking aim at the link between early childhood trauma and adult mental health issues.

The $2.5 million, five-year project led by the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, is co-funded by Beyond Blue and the National Health and Medical Research Council. 

It will seek to reduce the impact of adversity or hardship on young children (zero to eight years) in Wyndham, Melbourne, and Marrickville, Sydney and identify and enhance support services for at-risk families.

Lead researcher, MCRI’s Professor Harriet Hiscock said her team of researchers from 11 Australian institutes and universities will first find out exactly what practical supports parents need in order to reduce hardships at home, for example more accessible counselling, housing support and health care.

Prof Hiscock said the long-term goal of the research is prevention of, or early intervention in, incidents of childhood trauma or adversity in order to reduce national rates of depression, anxiety and suicide.

“Children who experience stresses or adversities as they grow up are six to 10 times more likely to develop mental health problems later in life,” Prof Hiscock said.

“These adversities include a broad range from physical and emotional abuse or neglect, parent mental health problems, harsh parenting, parent substance abuse, through to housing problems and social isolation. By lessening the stresses on young children, we improve their wellbeing now and in the future.”

Ms Gillard said the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute’s work was vital because half all adult mental health issues emerge before the age of 14.

“This program will demonstrate how important it is to invest in the early years because adverse childhood experiences can have life-long implications for mental health, social, academic and employment outcomes.” Ms Gillard said.

“Beyond Blue is proud to be co-funding this project with the National Health and Medical Research Council.”

Project study senior, MCRI’s Professor Sharon Goldfeld said previous research has demonstrated the benefits of tackling the childhood origins of mental health problems, but Australian families most in need were still not getting support.

“We don’t yet know exactly what the mix of supports will be,” Prof Goldfeld said. ”But there may be a need for more health, educational and social supports, for example relationship counselling, parenting advice, help to break free from addictions to drugs and alcohol, help to find affordable housing, financial or psychological counselling, access to specialist medical care or access to quality early childhood education and care. 

“Once this is decided, we could deliver these at a one-stop shop like a community health centre and then we will work hand-in-hand with the community to care for families.”

Prof Goldfeld and Prof Hiscock said the final part of the five-year project would be to examine how well the redesigned systems worked so that the models could be adopted by governments and service providers across Australia.

Beyond Blue Chair Julia Gillard will launch the Centre of Research Excellence in Childhood Adversity and Mental Health, with the researchers, at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute today.