How practitioners and policy-makers can support children with mental disorders

July 1, 2024

Findings from a recent systematic review by the Children’s Health Policy Centre offer hope for children with mental disorders. Specifically, the review stresses the need to use a four-pronged population health strategy, including:

  1. Addressing social determinants of health, such as socio-economic disparities, and reducing avoidable childhood adversities that contribute to the development of mental health problems
  2. Providing effective prevention programs for children who can benefit to reduce the burdens and reduce the number of young people needing treatment
  3. Providing effective and timely treatments for all children with mental disorders
  4. Monitoring population needs and outcomes over time to evaluate and improve public policy efforts

The first two prongs of this strategy involve “upstream” issues early in children’s lives, before mental disorders develop. In the longer term, society may recoup these investments, for example, through reductions in the use of health, education, social and justice services when more children and families are thriving. And, mounting research evidence supports effective prevention programs, many of which can be implemented by children’s mental health and school practitioners.

The third prong addresses treatment. This requires reaching children early in the course of their disorder(s) with proven and timely interventions that are of adequate duration and intensity. However, the data suggest that many countries, even those that are high income, are far from this goal. But Australia stands as an example of a high-income country that could double the proportion of young people accessing services for mental disorders over a period of approximately 15 years. This was achieved through increasing funding for mental health services overall, as well as changing how funding was used. For example, Australia increased spending for community mental health care services and decreased spending for psychiatric hospitals.

The final prong of this strategy involves measuring collective progress towards improving children’s mental health, through monitoring outcomes and adjusting course over time.

For more information, see Vol. 16, No. 2 of the Children’s Mental Health Research Quarterly.