Shocking number of kids battling mental health issues
An increasing number of Victorian children as young as eight are attending emergency departments for self-harm, anxiety and depression, research shows.
Rates of children and teenagers seeking help for mental health problems increased 6.5 per cent a year between 2008 and 2015 - three times higher than those with physical health conditions.
Three research papers by the Murdoch Children's Research Institute, released exclusively to the Herald Sun, show the average age of a child seeking help was 14 and two thirds were female. Just over half suffered anxiety and 43 per cent had depression.
Parents took urgent action because their children "didn't want to live anymore" and "wanted the sadness and pain to stop", the papers show.
One child aged eight reportedly told his parents: "I need you to help me … I can't take this any longer." His mother said he was "begging them for help, literally begging them".
Doctors said the increase in children seeking help was not linked to population growth and want a "complete shake-up of the Australian health care system" to better care for young people's mental health.
One of the studies found one in four mental health patients aged under 18 returned to emergency departments due to self-harm within 12 months and 82 per cent of self-harm presentations were girls.
Lead author, MCRI Professor Harriet Hiscock said there was a "big gap in services for kids aged 12 and under, especially if a family cannot afford to pay for a private specialist".
She said children were seeking help at a younger age.
"They have got to a point where they are feeling a crisis coming on, or their parents think they're at that point," Prof Hiscock said.
She said eight-year-olds, if left untreated, would struggle.
"Half will manage it themselves and the other half will go on to have mental health problems as adults," she said.
Prof Hiscock said many of those presenting had comorbid factors such as ADHD and autism which "makes learning and socialising challenging, which can lead to anxiety and depression". Other triggers included the breakdown of parents' relationships, she said.
Professor Hiscock said there were long waiting lists, high costs and strict criteria for public funding.
Researchers from The Royal Children's Hospital, the University of Melbourne, Sunshine Hospital, Monash Health and Ballarat Base Hospital contributed to the studies.
Originally published as Shocking number of kids battling mental health issues