Sunday, May 15, 2011

Australia plans mental health testing on all children, beginning at age 3

From The Courier-Mail in Australia:

Every three-year-old child could have their mental health tested under an ambitious program designed to catch problems early.

Part of the Federal Government's $1.5 billion spend on mental health is directed towards early intervention, with Mental Health Minister Mark Butler saying evidence was emerging that signs of mental illness developed very early in life.

He said checks could pick up children at risk of "conduct disorders" or poor development.

The Government has allocated $11 million to bring forward current universal health checks to three-year-olds and to expand them to include "emotional wellbeing and development".

Currently, the checks are offered when children turn four and there is no mental health component.

"Our advisory group presented very clear evidence that the nought to 12 age is a very important age," Mr Butler said.

Mental health expert Professor Patrick McGorry said disorders such as autism and attachment problems could manifest as young as three.

He said mental health checks should be conducted again in middle childhood and early adolescence.

"Checking early means we've got a better chance of picking things up," Prof McGorry said.

"Most children are fine at that age, but certain types of problems do occur.

"As young as three, we know that infants can present signs of emerging behavioural disorders which, if they're not caught in time, they're not treated, can become a very serious problem in primary school and develop into quite serious mental illness in adolescence."

Mr Butler said the checks would be voluntary, but the Government would "promote" the benefits to families.

Many of the checks will be tied to receiving the Family Tax Benefit.

Details of the mental health checks are yet to be developed, with the Government proposing to establish an expert group for advice.

Checks for four-year-olds have been conducted on more than 130,000 children since the service was launched in 2008.

The Australian Medical Association Queensland has called for an urgent allocation of the Federal Government's mental health funding to the state.