Children, Family, Mental Health, Media release 3 minute read

Don’t forget Our Kids this budget, Prime Minister

Tomorrow’s budget announcement will be an important reflection of what we care about as a nation. There’s an opportunity for Australia to be world-leading in equipping its next generation with the skills and strategies they need to thrive before mental illness prevails. Will tomorrow’s budget show that children’s health is a national priority or will our kids fall through the cracks again?

My sons were born in 2020, beginning their lives in a neonatal special care unit, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Strict visiting guidelines flowed into lockdowns. My newborns were unable to meet their grandparents and cousins and I missed out on the wrap-around community support every new mum desperately needs in those first few months. Especially with twins. 

Fast forward (as any parent will tell you, the days are long but the years fly by) and my babies are nearly four. As I consider what the next phase of life may bring for our family, I worry. Right now, primary school aged children in Australia are facing escalating mental health challenges and it's almost impossible to find support. This growing issue isn’t receiving the effort and focus needed to stop yet another generation joining the millions of Australians currently living with mental ill-health. 

Learning concerns and anxiety amongst primary school-aged kids have doubled in the last 10 years, and a growing number are unable to go to school altogether. Seven out of 10 of the most common presentations to paediatricians in Australia are for mental health, yet only half the kids needing support are getting it. We know that children’s mental health is intrinsically connected to their parents’ mental health, so we can only guess what additional impact our sky-rocketing cost of living is having on Australian families.  

Our kids' health urgently needs to be made a national priority—they are the future of our nation and yet, there is no dedicated federal government representative for children aged  five to 12 years.

As the mental health of primary school-aged children continues to decline, parents, health care workers and teachers are left carrying the burden with minimal Government support, working within the already stretched and underfunded education and health systems.

We need direct government accountability and cross-portfolio leadership to ensure the unique and specific needs of Australian children are elevated, or our youngest and most vulnerable will keep falling through the cracks. 

Despite evidence that up to 50% of adult mental illness can be prevented, there is minimal federal government investment in the prevention of mental illness—and even less directly dedicated to initiatives for children. With the Federal Budget soon to be delivered, there is an opportunity for Australia to be world-leading in equipping its next generation with the skills and strategies they need to thrive. 

Half of all adult mental health conditions first emerge before the age of 14. Evidence shows that both the societal and economic impact is greatest when preventive mental health initiatives focus on children. Why aren’t we investing more in supporting children to learn the skills they need to look after their mental health and wellbeing, before illness prevails? 

Many Australian adults have reaped the benefits of preventive health initiatives that targeted them as children to reduce skin cancer, heart disease and other illnesses. Not unlike how sunscreen reduces the risk of sunburn in the short term and skin cancer over time, developing mental fitness in children will decrease the risk of them developing mental ill-health now and as they move into adolescence and adulthood. While the negative impacts of mental ill-health are far reaching, they are not inevitable if we take a proactive and coordinated approach to prevention, starting early in life. 

As a well-known former PM once said, “Budgets are made of choices. They make us think about what we care about the most.” Here’s hoping the Government shows that they care about our kids next week, for the sake of generations to come.

Smiling Mind has been at the forefront of mental wellbeing innovation for over 10 years, helping minds thrive with evidence-based tools and resources. We’re proud to have impacted the lives of millions of people globally.

Our mission is Lifelong Mental Fitness. We aim to create generational change in mental health, providing proactive tools and programs that help every mind thrive. So far, we’ve reached more than 12.8 million young people through our app and school based programs. 

Sarah La Roche, CEO, Smiling Mind

Written by Sarah La Roche, CEO, Smiling Mind

As the CEO of Smiling Mind and parent to 4-year-old twins, Sarah is deeply committed to Smiling Mind's mission to create generational change in mental health.

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