Mental health first aid for health professionals working with primary school aged children
June 2021 to February 2023
North Western Melbourne Primary Health Network has commissioned the University of Melbourne to:
- research and identify the mental health training needs of health professionals who provide care to primary school children (aged 5-12 years)
- inform the development of specific mental health first aid training modules for health professionals.
Health professionals include those who work with primary school aged children but are not specialised in mental health care including:
- GPs and nurses
- occupational therapists
- speech therapists
- other medical practitioners (such as paediatricians).
Australian research indicates the 12-month prevalence of diagnosable mental disorders in primary school aged children is 16.5 per cent for males and 10.4 per cent for females. Childhood mental health problems:
- present immediate negative impacts on children and their caregivers
- can also continue to adversely affect developmental trajectories into adolescence and adulthood.
There is an opportunity to intervene at a critical stage in child development. Early recognition of mental health problems and treatment are linked to better health outcomes across the lifespan.
The 2021 draft National Children’s Mental Health and Wellbeing Strategy highlights that children who are beginning to struggle with mental health symptoms should be recognised and provided with appropriate universal programs and targeted funded programs as early as possible. This can help children return to the healthy end of the mental health continuum.
This approach requires health professionals who are working with children to be able to:
- recognise the signs of mental health problems early
- understand the best referral pathways and appropriate evidence-based programs and services
- skilfully discuss mental health with children, caregivers and education providers.
The delivery of research findings and the design brief will inform the development of a mental health first aid training program. Once developed, this will help health professionals working with primary school children to:
- recognise when mental health concerns are developing
- communicate knowledge of help-seeking options and treatments
- understand how to approach familiar adults (for example: parents and caregivers), or where appropriate approach the child directly to discuss options for seeking help
- communicate knowledge of effective self-help strategies children can use to manage milder, low intensity problems
- intervene using first aid skills to support a child who is developing mental health concerns, experiencing a worsening condition or experiencing a mental health crisis.