Emotional-behavioural difficulties across childhood and mental health service use: Findings from a longitudinal Australian population based study

Mental health from pre-conception to early adolescence
Thursday 26 July, 1400 – 1420


Melissa Mulraney
Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, University of Melbourne

Up to 50% of children with a significant mental health problem do not attend professional services for treatment. Childhood mental health problems have significant long-term implications for individuals, their families and broader community. A better understanding of the variables influencing access to treatment could inform service planning for children who experience mental health difficulties.
We aimed to investigate patterns of mental health service use for children with varying trajectories of emotional-behavioural difficulties. Latent class analysis using data from the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children kindergarten cohort (n=4,348) was used across six waves of data collection (from children aged 4 to 15 years) to identify trajectories of emotional and behavioural difficulties. Use of mental health services and psychotropic medications increased with the severity of symptom trajectory, so that children with persistently high levels of symptoms took more medications and accessed services most frequently.
However, service use was low overall with only 50% of children in the most severe trajectory accessing any mental health services across the 10-year period. This highlights that service use is influenced by more than just a child’s symptoms. The associations between sociodemographic factors (e.g., child gender, location of residence, socioeconomic status, parent education) and service use will also be described. This is crucial to identify whether there are particular groups of children within society who are missing out on treatment, and can inform policies to increase access and utilisation of services for the most vulnerable children.