There’s been a dramatic increase in the number of young people with mental health problems seeking assistance at Victorian public hospital emergency departments.

New research by the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute found mental health presentations tripled between 2008 and 2015 among young people aged 10-14 and 15-19.

The study, published in the Medical Journal of Australia, reported that over the seven-year period, 52,000 young people sought help for mental health issues from emergency departments.

Self-harm was the most common condition, followed by drug and alcohol issues, and then mood disorders such as depression and anxiety.

There was a significant increase in depression and anxiety diagnoses for children aged 10-14 years and young people aged 15-19 years.

The study reported that patients with mental health concerns were more likely to be triaged as urgent, stay longer in the emergency department, and be admitted to hospital compared to those with physical health issues.

The ability of parents to recognise mental health problems in their children has previously been highlighted.

The 2017 Royal Children’s Hospital National Child Health Poll found that majority of Australian parents were not confident in identifying or responding to signs of a mental health problem in their child.

Only a third of Australian parents were confident they could recognise the signs of a mental health problem in their child, with a further third of parents believing a child’s mental health problems might be best left alone to work themselves out over time.

The latest research suggests several possible measures to help young people earlier, including:

  • Public health campaigns to help improve mental health literacy in caregivers
  • Giving GPs and other frontline health and education professionals further training in how to recognise and support families around seeking help for their child’s difficulties
  • Providing community-based mental health services for under-12s, who currently have few services supporting them.

‘Future research is needed to understand why these children are turning up to emergency departments, especially children with depression and anxiety,’ said institute researcher and paediatrician Professor Harriet Hiscock.

‘It may be an issue of not knowing where else to go, or they may go to their GP and get referrals and there’s waiting times, out-of-pocket costs or services that don’t open in hours that parents and children can get to them.

‘We are working towards a better understanding of why children are turning up to our emergency departments so we can better design and roll out solutions to stem the tide.’

Parents can find information on how to spot the signs of mental health problems in their children and links to other resources in the RCH Child National Health Poll.

Young person sitting on floor in corridor

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Posted by Independent Schools Victoria