Kids receiving ‘good enough’ mental health treatment do not improve

HEU researchers Dr Jemimah Ride, Dr Li Huang, and A/Prof. Kim Dalziel, along with colleagues at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, Royal Children’s Hospital, University of Adelaide, and Deakin University, have recently published a study looking at mental health care in children and adolescents aged 8-15 years. The study, published in the Journal of Affective Disorders, found that the majority of children and adolescents with mental health problems in Australia did not receive a minimum standard of treatment and even in those who did, outcomes were no better on average. Despite increased investment in youth mental health diagnosis and treatment in the past three decades, mental health disorders affect 13 per cent of children worldwide. Half to three-quarters of children and adolescents with mental health disorders go untreated.

This study examined the impact of ‘minimally adequate’ treatment compared to a lower level of treatment. Minimally adequate treatment in children can be considered as eight or more mental health visits within a year, or four or more visits plus relevant medication. The study followed 596 children from ages 8–15 years with mental health problems from the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children and linked them to Medicare-rebated mental health treatments. Only 40 per cent of children with mental health symptoms received some form of Medicare-rebated treatment and only 12 per cent received treatment classified as minimally adequate treatment. While clinical trials have shown that mental health treatments can be effective, this study using real-world data did not show any improvement in quality of life or mental health symptoms in children and adolescents who received minimally adequate treatment compared to those who received a lower level of treatment. These findings have implications for how we evaluate and fund mental health systems, reinforcing the need for routine monitoring of outcomes and quality in mental health care, and a better understanding of the real-world impact of children’s mental health treatment.

Publication: Jemimah Ride, Li Huang, Melissa Mulraney,Harriet Hiscock, David Coghill, Michael Sawyer, Emma Sciberras, Kim Dalziel. ‘Is ‘minimally adequate treatment’ really adequate? Investigating the effect of mental health treatment on quality of life for children with mental health problems,’ Journal of Affective Disorders. DOI: 10.1016/j.jad.2020.07.086