The Australian Psychological Society (APS) said there is compelling evidence that primary school aged children need mental health support, and called on all Australian Governments to invest in qualified psychologists in primary schools.
Yesterday the Victorian Government flagged it would consider expanding its funding for secondary school mental health workers to primary schools if the evidence supported it.
The APS in its submission to the Victorian Royal Commission into mental health will be urging the Andrews Government to introduce psychologists in primary schools.
APS CEO Frances Mirabelli said a raft of mental health issues are common in children and young people, and qualified psychologists are urgently needed in primary schools to address the crisis.
“Primary school is where many mental health issues start, and it is where we need to intervene,” said Ms Mirabelli.
“Governments need to invest in psychologists who are trained to deliver the evidence-based interventions which research has shown are the best-practice response to serious mental health problems.”
“Psychologists also have the capacity to assess learning difficulties or intellectual disability and work with teachers and families to support children with behavioural issues.”
Evidence shows many mental health conditions start in childhood and early adulthood. Exposure to trauma, developmental problems, family violence and poverty are significant risk factors for mental health problems.
In Australia, almost 10 per cent of children aged 6-7 show signs of social-emotional stress, and 1 in 5 Australian children (21.7%) who started school in 2018 were identified as developmentally vulnerable.
The 2015 Report on the Second Australian Child and Adolescent Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing shows almost 1 in 7 children and young people (aged 4 – 17 years) are affected by mental health issues.
“Fifty per cent of lifelong mental health issues start before the age of 14 years, and as most young people attend school it’s the appropriate setting to catch early signs and provide early intervention,” said Ms Mirabelli.
She said mental illness, family stress and breakdown, bullying, witnessing domestic violence or living with the trauma of sexual or psychological abuse, are just some reasons why students require expert psychological intervention.
“There has never been a greater need than now to provide evidence-based psychological interventions to support primary school students.”