An estimated one in eight children in high-income countries have mental disorders at any given time, causing symptoms and impairment, therefore requiring treatment. Yet even in countries such as Canada, most children with mental disorders are not receiving services for these conditions.
These were the conclusions of a systematic review and meta-analysis by the Children’s Health Policy Centre recently published in the journal Evidence-Based Mental Health.
The team looked at high-quality studies on 12 of the most common childhood mental health conditions. Overall prevalence of any childhood mental disorder — before the pandemic — was 12.7% with anxiety, ADHD, oppositional defiant disorder, substance use, conduct disorder and depression being the most common. Among children with mental disorders, only 44.2% received any services for these conditions.
The paper discusses the implications of these findings, particularly the need to substantially increase public investments in children’s mental health services. Most important is ensuring that all children with mental health conditions can access effective interventions — when they need them. The needs are likely even more urgent during the COVID-19 pandemic. But addressing the pre-pandemic levels of need is a crucial starting point.
The entire paper is available here.
What’s the role for research in terms of children’s mental health policy?
That was the subject of a recent 40-minute Zoom talk by Children’s Health Policy Centre director Charlotte Waddell on May 31. She was speaking with 25 doctoral and post-doctoral mentees and their supervisors from across Canada as part of a Pathways in Autism longitudinal study.
Waddell’s key message was that to effectively influence policy, researchers must first appreciate the policy process. “As researchers, we are faced with very different concerns than the ones that policy leaders must grapple with,” she said. “So, learning about the policy process is a crucial first step for researchers who want their work to be useful for policymakers.”
Waddell also discussed how policy engagement by parents of children with autism has acted as a constructive example — showing the way forward to significantly improve services for children.
Following her talk, Waddell also led a 20-minute session working through policy-research case studies and encouraging conversation.
Charlotte Waddell and Nicole Catherine both gave brief talks May 4, 2021, at the first student-organized research conference for SFU public health and health sciences students.
The aim of the three-day conference was to give students the opportunity to present their own research, and to hear about the research of others in the Faculty of Health Sciences.
Waddell spoke about improving social and emotional wellbeing for all children, and on the public policies needed to reach these goals. And Catherine spoke about her work with the BC Healthy Connections Project and its examination of the Nurse-Family Partnership program.
What interventions can best help children facing mental health concerns in BC right now?
That was the topic Christine Schwartz addressed on a March 30, 2021 Zoom presentation to more than 100 senior leaders and clinicians from the BC Ministry of Children and Family Development.
An Adjunct Professor with the Children’s Health Policy Centre and lead writer for the Children’s Mental Health Research Quarterly, Schwartz was also co-author of a paper on these interventions published in October 2020.
As a clinical psychologist, Schwartz told the group that there are numerous effective interventions for both preventing and treating the most common mental disorders experienced in childhood.
“Every child who needs an effective intervention should be able to get one that works,” she told the group. But she added, “there are a lot of children who aren’t being addressed or they’re being given ineffective interventions.”
Starting with the most commonly experienced mental health disorder, anxiety, Schwartz said there is excellent evidence that cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is effective at both prevention and treatment. CBT is also effective at both prevention and treatment for depression. And for behaviour disorders — such as conduct disorder or oppositional defiant disorder — parent training programs are effective for both prevention and treatment.
The full presentation can be viewed here.