Researchers at the University of Melbourne are proposing the introduction of a new field of research and intervention on mental health literacy for supporting children.
Since Mental Health First Aid Australia®’s co-founder Tony Jorm first coined the term back in 1997, the concept of “mental health literacy” has been instrumental in the development of global mental health interventions, policy and funding.
Mental health literacy encompasses a broad range of skills, including the ability to recognise and understand a range of mental health topics, from specific disorders and helpful information and professional supports available, to having the first aid skills to support someone experiencing a mental health problem. To this date, research in this area has largely focused on adolescence as this is often considered the period of life when mental disorders first develop.
In a letter to the editor published in the seminal journal World Psychiatry, researchers in the University of Melbourne’s Centre for Mental Health say there is an urgent need for a new field of research to focus on mental health literacy for supporting children aged 5 to 12 .
Current research suggests that 35 per cent of all mental illnesses begin before age 14. The skills, knowledge and information needed for adults to recognise, manage and prevent mental ill-health in young people differs between school-aged children and adolescents, with research historically focused on the latter.
Children with mental ill-health experience unique diagnoses and symptom profiles, help-seeking pathways, risk and protective factors and associated stigmatising attitudes, which means the ways in which adults support them will vary from how they support teenagers. This presents a need for more age-appropriate research to aid better recognition, management and prevention of mental ill-health in children.
The development of this new concept in the field of research and intervention would lead to new high-quality measures, population-level surveys, effective interventions and evidence-based policy targets – all with the goal of improving mental health outcomes for the children of the future.
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