Three-year-olds to be tested for mental health problems

Three-year-olds to be tested for mental health problems

By Charlotte Fantelli

Early intervention plans are at the forefront of mental health reform worldwide. Governments across the globe are starting to wake up and make mental health a big part of overall health strategy, but has Australia gone too far?

As Part of the Australian Federal Government's $1.5 billion planned spend on mental health, one strategy being put forward is the testing for mental health issues children.

Ambitious new plans could see children as young as three tested for signs of mental illness. Mental Health Minister Mark Butler says evidence is emerging that signs of mental illness developed very early in life.

He believes these proposed checks could ‘pick up’ children at risk of behaviour disorders or poor development.

The Australian 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.

Mr Butler states "Our advisory group presented very clear evidence that the 0 to 12 age is a very important age."

A poll on the site about this shows the plans as controversial. When asked ‘should mental health tests be carried out on three-year-olds? A staggering 71.43% of voters said no.

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

He continued to recommend 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, most children are fine at that age, but certain types of problems do occur." Prof McGorry said.

"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.

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

I am on the fence with this one, on the one hand it is important that physicians are aware of mental health and behavioural issues in youngster, but on the other, I am fearful that it will impose a strict set of guidelines on children who are yet to fully develop personal and emotional understanding.

We wait and see how the UK’s £400million mental health budget will be spent, we will be sure to give our opinion as soon as we know.

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