Factors influencing child mental health: A state-wide survey of Victorian children


Associate Professor Sharon Goldfeld, Health and Wellbeing Division, Victorian Department of Education and Early Childhood Development, Level 1, 2 Treasury Place, 3002, Melbourne, Vic., Australia. Fax: 9345 5900; email: goldfeld.sharon.r@edumail.vic.gov.au


Aims:  This study aims to estimate the prevalence of mental health problems among Victorian children and to investigate factors associated with poorer mental health.

Method:  Computer-assisted telephone interviews were undertaken with the parents of 3370 randomly selected Victorian children aged 4 to 12 years. They reported on their child's mental health and special health-care needs as well as their own mental health, family functioning and a range of community and socio-demographic variables. Population estimates and odds ratios (OR) were calculated with 95% confidence intervals (95% CI).

Results:  Overall, 11.6% (95% CI = 10.3–12.9%) of Victorian children were estimated to be at risk of having mental health problems. Factors independently placing children at increased risk of mental health problems that were ‘of concern’ include a child having special health-care needs (OR = 7.89, 95% CI 5.16 to 12.08), unhealthy family functioning (OR = 3.84, 95% CI 2.19 to 6.74), parental mental health problems (OR = 7.89, 95% CI 5.16 to 12.08), neighbourhood safety (OR = 2.47, 95% CI 1.20 to 5.07) and area of residence (OR = 2.01, 95% CI 1.33 to 3.02).

Conclusions:  A significant proportion of Victorian children are at some risk of mental health problems. These limited but important predictors of children's mental health reinforce the need for policy solutions that will extend beyond those offered by traditional mental health service systems.