New HCF research reveals mental health impacting primary school attendance

Research commissioned by HCF, has revealed more than one in three (36 per cent) primary school children experienced stress and unhappiness about going to school due to mental health challenges over the last twelve months, with nearly one in four (24 per cent) facing this distress weekly.

“The emotional distress experienced by children when they are struggling to attend school can stem from many factors, including challenges related to neurodiversity and mental health disorders, as well as from difficulties at home, with their health and many other areas,” said clinical psychologist Rebecca Short.

Over half (53 per cent) of parents surveyed reported that their primary schooler had displayed mental health challenges in the past 12 months.

Approximately one in three parents (37 per cent) stated that their child had been formally diagnosed with a mental health or neurodevelopmental condition, with ADHD, autism spectrum disorder, and anxiety being among the most common diagnoses.

“It’s critical to recognise that children are not just staying home because they don’t like school – and that there is significant distress for both parents and children struggling with school attendance.

“Families often need intensive and appropriate support to ensure the wellbeing of both the child and their family,” Ms Short said.

The study also highlighted gaps in accessing mental health support, with over a third (35%) of parents admitting to not seeking any form of assistance for their child.

“Navigating mental health challenges can feel overwhelming,” said Linda Opie, HCF’s Head of Health & Wellbeing.

“By offering convenient access to a range of mental health services and family support, we can empower families to choose what’s right for them to effectively navigate these difficult situations,” Ms Opie said, noting that the availability of professionally led and science-backed digital mental health services, such as online cognitive behavioural therapy, continues to grow.

“These health programs can be used independently or in combination with in-person support to assist families in need.

“For example, Calm Kid Central is an online program designed to help children aged 4–11 who experience intense mental, emotional, social, or life challenges.

“These challenges might be due to factors like genetics, environment, social interactions, or temperament.

“The program aims to equip children with essential skills to manage their feelings and challenges more effectively.

“This Way Up, a not-for-profit initiative developed by experienced psychiatrists and clinical psychologists, also offers a range of evidence-based online health programs and practical resources.

“The programs help you understand and develop coping strategies to manage mental challenges like stress, insomnia, worry, anxiety, and depression,” Ms Opie said.

“Almost all of us will face stress, anxiety or depression at some point in our lives,” Linda said.

“By reaching out for help, parents can take the first step towards supporting their child’s and their own mental wellbeing,” said Linda.