How accurate is child mental health screening at four years?

February 11, 2014
How accurate is child mental health screening at four years?
Credit: stock.xchng

Research from the University of Adelaide shows that although mental health screening of children at ages 4-5 can help to predict mental health problems in future years, only a quarter of children can be accurately identified with such screening.

In a study conducted by the University's School of Population Health and the Robinson Institute, researchers looked at whether a checklist filled out by parents when their child was aged 4-5 years could be used to accurately identify with high levels of teacher-reported at 6-7 years.

The study was aimed at testing the accuracy of potential screening measures to identify children 'at risk' of developing school-related problems in the future. The study used data from more than 2100 children who participated in the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children when they were aged 4-5 and 6-7 years.

"In 2011, it was proposed that the Healthy Kids Check in Australia be extended to include screening for early signs of mental health problems, and this has caused some controversy both within academic circles and the general community," says lead author of the paper, Dr Alyssa Sawyer, a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the University's School of Population Health.

"The difficulty of accurately identifying young children at risk for future mental health problems poses a major challenge, especially for the implementation of effective, targeted intervention programs," she says.

Dr Sawyer says approximately 25% of the children with high levels of teacher-reported problems at age 6-7 could be correctly identified on the basis of parent reports at age 4-5 years.

"However, approximately 75% of the children identified as 'at risk' at age 4-5 years did not go on to experience high levels of problems at age 6-7 years. This speaks to the difficulty of screening being able to clearly identify individual children who will experience a high level of problems two years later when they are in their first years of school.

"These findings suggest that we could potentially reduce the number of children experiencing mental health problems at age 6-7 years by 25%. However, if treatments are stigmatising and expensive then 75% of the children at age 4-5 years who were falsely identified would be put at risk of receiving interventions that they may not need," Dr Sawyer says.

Professor Michael Sawyer, Professor of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry with the University's Robinson Institute and senior co-author of the paper, says there is another major concern: "In Australia, there are relatively few clinicians with the skills to help young people with mental . A large number of children who are deemed 'at risk' in a Healthy Kids Check may then be unable to access appropriate treatment. Screening programs can only be valuable if all identified children have access to low-cost, effective and non-stigmatising interventions," he says.

This study was supported by funding from the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC). The results have been published online ahead of print in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry.

Explore further: Children with asthma at-risk for mental health issues

More information: Alyssa CP Sawyer, Catherine R Chittleborough, John W Lynch, Peter Baghurst, Murthy N Mittinty, Amy LE Kaim, and Michael G Sawyer. "Can screening 4–5 year olds accurately identify children who will have teacher-reported mental health problems when children are aged 6–7 years?" Aust N Z J Psychiatry 0004867413514491, first published on December 3, 2013 DOI: 10.1177/0004867413514491

Related Stories

Children with asthma at-risk for mental health issues

September 13, 2012
(Medical Xpress)—A new study has found that young children with severe or persistent asthma are at higher risk of developing many common mental health problems.

Adopted children missing out on mental health treatments

January 22, 2014
Common disorders, such as ADHD or conduct disorder, are being 'grossly under-identified' amongst adopted and fostered children, according to a new study by King's College London. Instead, clinicians are over-identifying more ...

Varied child language skills linked to early learning achievements

February 5, 2014
Young children present a mixed bag when it comes to determining which factors impact their vocabulary development, according to a recent investigation.

How are children affected by maternal anxiety and depression?

October 24, 2013
Maternal symptoms of anxiety and depression increased the risk of emotional and disruptive problem behaviors in children as early as 18 months of age, according to new research findings from the TOPP study. The risk persisted ...

Findings raise concerns about path to autism early intervention

January 29, 2014
A new study from researchers at Autism Speaks shows improvement towards universal early screening for autism. The report, published online today in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, also ...

US schools struggle with mental health screening

January 13, 2014
School officials around the U.S. are searching for the best way to offer mental health services in an underfunded system.

Recommended for you

Talking to yourself can help you control stressful emotions

July 26, 2017
The simple act of silently talking to yourself in the third person during stressful times may help you control emotions without any additional mental effort than what you would use for first-person self-talk – the way people ...

Heart rate study tests emotional impact of Shakespeare

July 26, 2017
In a world where on-screen violence has become commonplace, Britain's Royal Shakespeare Company is turning to science to discover whether the playwright can still make our hearts race more than 400 years on.

Do all people experience similar near-death-experiences?

July 26, 2017
No one really knows what happens when we die, but many people have stories to tell about what they experienced while being close to death. People who have had a near-death-experience usually report very rich and detailed ...

Risk for bipolar disorder associated with faster aging

July 26, 2017
New King's College London research suggests that people with a family history of bipolar disorder may 'age' more rapidly than those without a history of the disease.

Visual clues we use during walking and when we use them

July 25, 2017
(Medical Xpress)—A trio of researchers with the University of Texas and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute has discovered which phase of visual information processing during human walking is used most to guide the feet accurately. ...

Toddlers begin learning rules of reading, writing at very early age, study finds

July 25, 2017
Even the proudest of parents may struggle to find some semblance of meaning behind the seemingly random mish-mash of letters that often emerge from a toddler's first scribbled and scrawled attempts at putting words on paper.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.