New research by the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute (MCRI) has shown over the seven years between 2008 and 2015, mental health presentations have tripled amongst children in the 10-14 and 15-19 age group.
The study, published in the Medical Journal of Australia, looked at children from birth to 19 years.
Between 2008 and 2015, 52,000 children presented to Victorian public hospital emergency departments statewide with mental health disorders. The most common condition was self harm, followed by drug and alcohol issues, then mood disorders such as depression and anxiety.
There was a particular increase in depression and anxiety diagnoses for children aged 10-14 years and young people aged 15-19 years.
Patients with mental health concerns were more likely to be triaged as urgent, stay longer in the emergency department, and be admitted to hospital compared to those with physical health issues.
MCRI researchers leading the study suggested a range of potential solutions including public health campaigns to help improve mental health literacy in caregivers, giving GPs and other frontline health and education professionals further training in how to recognise and support families around seeking help for their child’s difficulties, and providing community based mental health services for under-12s, who currently have few services supporting them.
MCRI researcher and paediatrician Professor Harriet Hiscock said, “Future research is needed to understand why these children are turning up to emergency departments, especially children with depression and anxiety. It may be an issue of not knowing where else to go, or they may go to their GP and get referrals and there’s waiting times, out-of-pocket costs or services that don’t open in hours that parents and children can get to them. We are working towards a better understanding of why children are turning up to our emergency departments so we can better design and roll out solutions to stem the tide.”
Parents can find information on how to spot the signs of mental health problems in their children in this RCH Child National Health Poll.