Monday, 11 June 2012

Early detection of mental health issues

Healthy Australian Kids

Early detection of mental health issues The Australian government, supported by the Australian Medical Association (AMA) has proposed an initiative, which will be part of the The Healthy Kids Check, to screen Australian 3 year olds for signs of psychiatric and developmental conditions such as autism

Under this voluntary program parents can bring their children to be assessed by General Practitioners (GPs), who will then refer children who display troubling behaviour to psychologists and paediatricians for further assessment and, if necessary, treatment.

According to AMA president Steve Hambleton, children with psychiatric problems usually start showing symptoms at the age of approximately 3 years.

The main advantage of the program is that early detection of problems can help ensure children receive early intervention, which will stop the problems from getting worse and has been shown to result in the best outcomes, particularly for conditions like autism.

Child health and welfare specialist Gillian Calvert also supports the program and does not think children who are treated under it will feel singled out and isolated. "I think if a child has such behavioural and emotional problems that they are going to get help and to get some services for some sort, then they already have a sense that they're a little bit different," she said.

Not everyone supports the program

The program is somewhat controversial however and has some parents and medical experts worried that normal 3 year old behaviour may be medicalised and children will be incorrectly labelled.

Professor Allen Frances, a psychiatrist and Emeritus Professor at the Duke University in the US, who was chairman of the committee that produced the current version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), thinks that diagnosis of psychiatric conditions is young children is very difficult. "Kids have developmental changes that are dramatic in a very short period of time. So, I would be the most cautious in doing anything psychiatrically with very young children"

He also thinks that there is no evidence that it can be accurately predicted at 3 who will go on to have a mental disorder.

What is generally agreed is that GPs need to have proper ongoing training to identify issues and that normal childhood behaviour such as being scared of the dark should be distinguished from problem behaviour.

What are your views? Are you supportive of the program or do you have concerns about it? Please share your comments below.

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