RCH National Health Poll: What Parents Need to Know About Childhood Mental Health

The Royal Children’s Hospital national health poll findings have just been released.

They shed a lot of light on how families with young children understand and deal with mental health issues…

And emphasise the importance of identifying the warning signs…

Of understanding the issues…

And of seeking out early intervention. 

Of the 2000 parents surveyed in the poll…

A third believed that mental health problems in kids will ‘work themselves out’ over time. 

About a quarter did not know that physical symptoms can be signs of mental health problems. 

And fewer than half felt confident about where they could get professional help. 

These numbers may seem surprising, as the proportion of children exhibiting mental health challenges is at an all-time high.

But the warning signs and symptoms of mental illness or emotional problems can be hard to identify.

‘Kids are always changing and parents can wonder, is it just another phase or is it something that I need to worry about it?’, says Dr Anthea Rhodes, the Director of the poll.

While the line can be blurry, it’s when the challenges are interfering with a child’s daily life that concern should shift to action. 

‘Some things resolve themselves naturally, and we don’t want to catastrophise and magnify issues unnecessarily’, explains our staff psychologist Jessica Levetan.

However, ‘if they’re having ongoing issues that are interfering with their wellbeing: their relationships at school, their mood, their relationships at home… any aspect of life that’s ongoing that’s gone on for a couple of months or more’…

Then that’s when intervention and extra support is needed.

And early intervention is key. 

‘We know from research that mental health problems have a better chance of a good outcome if they are dealt with early before a problem becomes embedded and difficult to treat,’ says Dr Rhodes.

‘Many mental health problems that adults suffer from have their beginnings in childhood, so it’s really important to intervene early before things become entrenched.’

Thankfully, educational institutions and government are taking note, and are making steps forward to offer strategies supporting mental and emotional wellbeing at school.

But ultimately, mental health help and support starts at home.

So it’s integral that parents are engaged with their children, so that they know when their child is struggling and in need of extra support.  

The RCH poll suggests that a lack of engagement and connection between parents and their kids may be why warning signs can go unnoticed…

One in three of the surveyed parents said they found it hard to connect with their kids due to lack of time.

But put simply, making time for connecting with your children is an essential part of being a parent…

And a worthwhile investment in the present and ongoing wellbeing of your child. 

It’s how you build trust, it’s how you maintain a bond, it’s how you help to institute healthy habits in their lives, and it’s how you encourage them to be open and honest with you.

And as we’ve always insisted — it doesn’t have to be a challenge to find time to connect.

It can happen in the most menial of moments, from car trips home, to doing the dishes together.

And Dr Rhodes echoes the practicality of family bonding time.

‘It’s not about finding extra time or having special events, the best way to do this is to build it into the habits of everyday life,’ she said.

‘It’s about putting away the distractions, which are so present in life, and taking just a few moments to focus on and interact with your child.’ 

In addition to making sure you make time to talk with and listen to your child, familiarise yourself with the warning signs of serious mental health challenges, like anxiety or depression.

‘Red flags that are worth a chat with a professional are changes in behaviour that are particularly tense and go on for more than a few weeks, and things that are affecting your child’s ability to cope with everyday life at home, childcare, kinder or school’, says Dr Rhodes.

Warning signs that intervention may be needed include:

Sadness a lot of the time

Ongoing worries or fears

– Obsessions or compulsive habits that interfere with everyday life

– Ongoing problems getting along with other children or fitting in at school, kinder or child care

– Aggressive or consistently disobedient behaviour

– Frequent physical complaints, such as headaches or tummy aches

Sleep problems, including nightmares

See the links below for further information on childhood anxiety, depression, and the importance of early intervention.

Further Reading:

And if you are in Melbourne and would like some some extra help with this issue?

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