Barriers to children’s mental health services revealed

A new study published in The Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry reveals the barriers preventing children and adolescents from receiving high-quality mental health care in Australia, which include fragmented services, long wait times and inadequate training.

The research, led by the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute (MCRI) found that many vulnerable children are not receiving sufficient help due to the mental health system struggling under major structural, training, resource and workforce issues.

143 clinicians were surveyed as part of the study on their perceptions of the major barriers faced by Australian children and their parents when seeking help for common mental health conditions – a first of its kind, according to MCRI researcher Kate Paton.

The clinicians, who included child and adolescent psychiatrists, paediatricians, child psychologists and GPs from Victoria and South Australia, reported access to services is restricted by:

  • The degree of severity and complexity of the condition.
  • Age ranges for specific services.
  • System fragmentation with no roadmap to navigate.
  • High out-of-pocket costs.
  • Lengthy waiting times.

The study also revealed that a shortage of psychiatrists and psychologists particularly for children under 12 years, combined with long waitlists are leading to clinician burnout, especially in regional areas.

Melbourne-based GP, Dr Scott Parsons says GPs are often the initial contact for parents concerned about their child’s mental health, making GPs best place to ensuring a timely and specifically tailored treatment plan.

However, Dr Parsons adds that this rarely happens.

“This can result in frustrated parents giving up or seeking alternative options due to the lack of a clear roadmap to the detriment of the child,” says Dr Parsons.

MCRI Professor Harriet Hiscock adds that because half of all mental health conditions present before 14 years of age, access to high-quality mental health care for younger children is crucial.

The study concluded that “clinicians identified many practical and systemic ideas to improve the system” and that the “next challenge for Australia’s children’s mental health” is the “implementation and evaluation of the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of these ideas”.

To read the study, visit: journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/0004867420984242

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