Child mental health research plan aims to help post COVID
The Sector > COVID-19 > Childhood Mental Health Research Plan aims to help in a post COVID world

Childhood Mental Health Research Plan aims to help in a post COVID world

by Freya Lucas

September 11, 2023

A core focus of the recently announced Childhood Mental Health Research Plan is to understand more about why more than half of mental health problems emerge before puberty, and what impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had. 


“Children experienced increased mental health symptoms before COVID-19, but then COVID-19 made that grow exponentially,” explained Professor Jennie Hudson from the Black Dog Institute. Professor Hudson is the Chair of the Childhood Mental Health Research Plan Expert Advisory Panel. 


“During COVID-19 we witnessed rapid change,” she continued. “The virus created a new threat to our health. There was more isolation and financial stress on families. Post COVID-19 many children are finding it difficult to attend school consistently.”


“There has also been a shift in children’s activity. They have more screen time, get less sleep and are less active than they used to be. We want to understand more about how these things affect young people’s mental health.”


The research plan focuses on implementing preventions and treatments that have been proven to work for most young people, but which are not being delivered equally to all children.


To improve this, the plan will support researchers living in rural areas and First Nations researchers. It also addresses research gaps, including:


  • 0–5-year-old children
  • Anxiety, depression, self-harm and suicide
  • Eating disorders
  • Trauma
  • Disability
  • Disruptive disorders.


Where appropriate children, families and carers will be co-designers of research funded under the plan. 


“Co-design allows you to understand children’s language and perspectives such as their beliefs, what’s cool and what is of interest to them,” said panel member Professor Maree Teesson.


Co-designed research is also more fit for use by systems that support children, she continued.


“You can’t work with children without working with systems that support them,” fellow panelist Associate Professor Beth Kotze said. 


The research plan calls for smaller scale incubator grants to try out new ideas. 


“These are for projects that can answer a question quickly or provide proof of concept for something bigger,” Professor Teesson said, with the hope that these grants will lead to innovations. 


The panel has also recommended that larger grants are used to allow teams of scientists to respond to complex problems, something Professor Teesson said is designed to encourage ‘moonshoot’ ideas that go to scale, such as national collaborations or involve broader mental health services. 


At least half of the incubator grants will be led by early to mid-career researchers, because, as Professor Teesson said, “the greatest ideas in science and research often come from people who have just finished their degrees”. 


“They’re starting out and they’ve got a burning idea but it is really hard to get funding without a track record. We decided to invest in those ideas of the future. I’m so proud of that.”


The grants are also aimed at encouraging teams to include peer researchers such as people with lived experience or community members like teachers and clinicians, Professor Hudson added. 


“This helps to reduce the gap between science and practice.”


For Professor Kotze, the advent of the research plan is “tremendously exciting”. 


“We are aiming to achieve coherence and equity across the mental health service sector. That’s what strategic planning can do.”


Access the research plan here.

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