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A Life-Course Approach For Mental Health

A Life-Course Approach For Mental Health

Mental Illness
A Life-Course Approach For Mental Health
Associate Professor Melissa Green

Associate Professor Melissa Green is leading several projects using linked data from the New South Wales Child Development Study (NSW-CDS), a longitudinal population study that enables a life-course approach to identify risk and protective factors for childhood and adolescent-onset mental health problems. The study methodology entails repeated waves of record linkage for a state-wide population cohort of some 90,000 children and their parents.

Record linkage allows data from various sources to be linked but does not reveal participant identity. Administrative records held by various government departments are combined with cross-sectional assessments of developmental functioning for the child at age 5-6 years (Australian Early Development Census) and 11-12 years (the Middle Childhood Survey).

The second wave of record linkage has just been completed, bringing together linked data from more than 20 record sets, up to the children aged 13-14 years. The NSW-CDS is unique in providing population-based evidence on the earliest indicators of childhood vulnerability for mental illness. The study has sufficient power to determine the relationships between relatively rare risk factors and outcomes, to identify early developmental pathways of risk and resilience.

A key finding to date has been the delineation of subgroups
of children defined by distinct patterns of developmental vulnerabilities at age five years, among which approximately 10 per cent of the general population appear to represent high risk for mental illness at school entry. The research team are following these children into adolescence and adulthood to determine their mental health and wellbeing outcomes later in life. They can already see the predictive utility of the age-five developmental profiles in mental health outcomes at age 13-14 years.

Funding received this year from the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) will support the next wave of record linkage as the children reach mid-adolescence (aged 16-17 years). This will bring additional records from Headspace and other national health records that will enable the detection of more commonly experienced mental health issues as the children develop into adulthood.

Ultimately, the study aims to characterise modifiable risk and protective factors that could assist governments in implementing social, educational, and health policies that will prevent or mitigate adverse mental illness and promote resilience. The team are working closely with the NSW Department of Family and Community Services (FACS) via an NHMRC Partnership Grant that is contributing to NSW inter-agency government policy development.

Ultimately, the study aims to characterise modifiable risk and protective factors that could assist governments in implementing social, educational, and health policies that will prevent or mitigate adverse mental illness and promote resilience

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