Productivity Commission Mental Health Inquiry Prioritises New Parents and Infants

Productivity Commission Mental Health Inquiry Prioritises New Parents and Infants


Tweddle welcomes the Productivity Commission Mental Health Inquiry findings and recommendations, especially the priority reforms that highlight the needs of parents with babies and young children.

The Productivity Commission’s Mental Health Inquiry found that Mental health underpins children’s and young people’s social and emotional development and their sense of wellbeing.

The report states that investing in the mental health of children and young people would deliver significant returns, for them, their family and the community. The commission’s final report suggesting changes could save $20 billion a year.

Aligning with Tweddle’s strategic purpose, the report prioritises a focus on prevention and early intervention to minimise the harm that mental illness can cause today and for generations.

Early Parenting services like Tweddle’s are a critical link in the screening of parent and infant mental health. The report outlines how the mental health of parents affects the social and emotional wellbeing of their children and how governments should take coordinated action to achieve universal screening for mental illness for all new parents.

Tweddle’s CEO Jacquie O Brien concurred with the findings. “80% of parents present to Tweddle disclosing feelings of anxiety or depression” she said.

“The report confirms that up to one in five children starting school have high levels of emotional problems, which are likely to get worse as they get older and make it harder for them to learn. Often these emotional issues start in infancy, and we see them in high numbers at Tweddle in both the parents and their children.”

Multiple factors can adversely affect mental health including biological, environmental and social factors. Mental ill-health can be founded in trauma and stress, even from early childhood.

Ms O’ Brien noted that the impact of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) wasn’t highlighted in the report. “ACEs are understood to be one of the leading causes of everything from heart disease and cancer to substance abuse and depression” she said.

“Extremely stressful experiences in childhood can alter brain development and have lifelong effects on health and behaviour, so we could also expand to screen for ACES like they are doing in America.”

The report confirms that some children face a much higher risk of mental ill-health from a very young age.

Children who are exposed to trauma (that either affects them directly or their family), those who are affected by entrenched disadvantage in their communities and children in the out-of-home care system face substantial risks to their mental health — but at the same time, they are also far less likely to have access to care and support, compared with other children in the population.

The report recommends an expansion to the existing optional physical development checks of Australia’s 1.25 million 0 to 3 year olds in community health services to incorporate social and emotional wellbeing aspects of development. This would enable necessary assistance to be made available to both the child and parents/carers.

The mental health of parents has a strong influence on the wellbeing of infants and young children, including their emotional, social, physical and cognitive development.

This suggests a strong case for supporting parents, particularly at times of major life transitions, such as in the perinatal period (pregnancy and the weeks following birth).

About one in ten women experience depression during pregnancy, and one in seven women in the year following the birth. One in five women experience anxiety in the perinatal period, and one in ten new fathers or partners experience perinatal depression and/or anxiety.

Governments should, as a priority reform, put in place strategies to reach universal screening for mental ill-health of new parents.

This may include use of existing maternal and child health services, Early Parenting Centres, online screening and outreach services.

The frequent interactions of families with healthcare providers in the perinatal period afford a valuable opportunity to improve detection of mental ill-health and offer early intervention.

Economic benefits include labour force participation and increased productivity. Helping parents feel well and supporting their return to work is crucial.

The mental health of children and families should be a priority, starting from help for new parents, babies and toddlers, and continuing through a child’s life.

Mental Health Fact Sheet – Babies, Children and Young People (PDF)

Productivity Commission – Mental Health Inquiry Report 2020


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