The mental health of Australian children has deteriorated significantly over the last year due to COVID-19, new analysis from The Australian National University (ANU) shows.

The findings come from a major national survey that asked parents and carers about their views on a range of outcomes for their children.

According to the study, parents and carers think COVID-19 has had a large negative impact on mental health for children aged five to 18 years. There were fewer concerns for children aged two to four.

Co-author Professor Nicholas Biddle said the mental health of adolescents and young adults was of “particular concern”.

“We found 71 per cent of parents and carers of Australians aged 15 to 18 reported worsening mental health conditions for their children,” Professor Biddle said.

“A lot of this is due to the ongoing impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and in particular extended lockdowns.

“Compared to other surveys earlier in the pandemic, these negative mental health impacts have clearly become a lot worse in their eyes.

“And it’s across the board for most children, with parents and carers of Australians aged five to 18 saying their children’s mental health and wellbeing is significantly worse off than a little over 12 months ago.”

The analysis shows 61.8 per cent of parents and carers with children aged five to nine think their kids had worsening mental health conditions, while 63.4 per cent with children aged 10 to 14 said the same. 

Mental health conditions were largely the same across gender.

According to parents and carers, the COVID-19 pandemic has had either a small or large negative impact on the mental health of 60.2 per cent of boys aged two to 18.  Parents and carers think the pandemic has had the same impact on 60.8 per cent of girls aged two to 18.

“We also found that in some circumstances mental health outcomes for young Australians had worsened due to their specific family circumstances,” co-author Professor Matthew Gray said.

“For example, outcomes appear to have worsened particularly for children where the parent or carer is Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander, lives in one of the states that have had long lockdown periods, or has high levels of psychological distress themselves.”

The survey also examined barriers to mental health support for young Australians.

One-in-five parents or carers, 20.8 per cent, reported that they needed mental health and wellbeing support for their children during the pandemic. Of those, 73.2 per cent said they sought help.

However, for those seeking help, 40.9 per cent said it was either difficult or very difficult to access mental health support.

Professor Gray said: “Many parents and carers have struggled with accessing services during the COVID-19 period. Our data shows a particular need to increase support for those children who are struggling with poor mental health, and their families.”

The study forms part of the COVID-19 Monitoring Program led by the ANU Centre for Social Research and Methods – Australia’s largest and longest running longitudinal study on the impact of the pandemic across the nation. Data for the study was collected by the Social Research Centre.

Read the full study at the Centre for Social Research Methods.

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