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General News, Mental Health

New HCF research reveals mental health impacting primary school attendance

HCF 4 mins read
Nearly 3 in 10 parents reported their child's full day absence due to mental health challenges, according to HCF research.

MONDAY, 3 JUNE 2024: Research commissioned by HCF, Australia's largest not-for-profit health fund, has revealed more than one in three (36%) primary school children experienced stress and unhappiness about going to school due to mental health challenges over the last twelve months, with nearly one in four (24%) facing this distress weekly.

The findings paint a concerning picture of the prevalence and underlying factors contributing to school refusal behaviours.

  • Nearly three in ten (28%) parents said their child has been late to school due to mental health challenges, with nearly a fifth (19%) reporting weekly occurrences.

 

  • Around a quarter (26%) of parents reported their child’s absence from school for part of the day due to mental health challenges, including one in six (17%) reporting weekly absences.

 

  • Nearly three in ten (28%) parents reported their child’s full-day absence from school due to mental health challenges, with nearly one in five (18%) experiencing this weekly.

 

“The emotional distress experienced by children when they are struggling to attend school can stem from many factors, including challenges related to neurodiversity and mental health disorders, as well as from difficulties at home, with their health and many other areas,” said clinical psychologist Rebecca Short.

Over half (53%) of parents surveyed reported that their primary schooler had displayed mental health challenges in the past 12 months.

Approximately one in three parents (37%) stated that their child had been formally diagnosed with a mental health or neurodevelopmental condition, with ADHD, autism spectrum disorder, and anxiety being among the most common diagnoses.

“It’s critical to recognise that children are not just staying home because they don't like school - and that there is significant distress for both parents and children struggling with school attendance. 

"Families often need intensive and appropriate support to ensure the wellbeing of both the child and their family,” Ms Short said.

The study also highlighted gaps in accessing mental health support, with over a third (35%) of parents admitting to not seeking any form of assistance for their child.

“Navigating mental health challenges can feel overwhelming,” said Linda Opie, HCF's Head of Health & Wellbeing.

“By offering convenient access to a range of mental health services and family support, we can empower families to choose what’s right for them to effectively navigate these difficult situations,” Ms Opie said, noting that the availability of professionally led and science-backed digital mental health services, such as online cognitive behavioural therapy, continues to grow.

“These health programs can be used independently or in combination with in-person support to assist families in need.

“For example, Calm Kid Central is an online program designed to help children aged 4–11 who experience intense mental, emotional, social, or life challenges.

“These challenges might be due to factors like genetics, environment, social interactions, or temperament.

“The program aims to equip children with essential skills to manage their feelings and challenges more effectively.

“This Way Up, a not-for-profit initiative developed by experienced psychiatrists and clinical psychologists, also offers a range of evidence-based online health programs and practical resources.

“The programs help you understand and develop coping strategies to manage mental challenges like stress, insomnia, worry, anxiety, and depression,” Ms Opie said.

“Almost all of us will face stress, anxiety or depression at some point in our lives,” Linda said.

“By reaching out for help, parents can take the first step towards supporting their child's and their own mental wellbeing," said Linda.

Eligible HCF members can access one free mental health check-in annually with a PSYCH2U psychologist, as well as rebates on This Way Up programs using their extras cover. For HCF members with hospital or extras cover and children aged 4 to 11, access to online platform Calm Kid Central is free.

If you need someone to talk to, call:

 

ENDS

 

EDITOR’S NOTE:

The HCF study ‘Beyond the bell: Uncovering the hidden struggles of primary school refusal among Australian families’ was conducted online from 23 – 27 February 2024 by YouGov in collaboration with HCF, comprising a nationally representative sample of 523 Australian parents with at least one primary school-aged child at home. Data was weighted by age, gender, and region to reflect the latest ABS population estimates. All statistical data is subject to margins of error associated with sample-based information.


Key Facts:

§  Nearly three in ten (28%) parents said their child has been late to school due to mental health challenges, with nearly a fifth (19%) reporting weekly occurrences.

§  Around a quarter (26%) of parents reported their child’s absence from school for part of the day due to mental health challenges, including one in six (17%) reporting weekly absences.

§  Nearly three in ten (28%) parents reported their child’s full-day absence from school due to mental health challenges, with nearly one in five (18%) experiencing this weekly.


About us:

ABOUT HCF

HCF, Australia’s largest not-for-profit health fund protecting Australians since 1932, covers almost 2 million members with health and life insurance, and travel and pet insurance. HCF has been awarded Outstanding Value Health Insurance by Canstar eight years in a row from 2016-2023. On average over the last ten years, HCF has paid out more cents in every dollar in premiums to members as benefits than the industry average. To learn more about HCF go to hcf.com.au/about-us


Contact details:

Joni Thomes 0475 576 738 or jthomes@hcf.com.au

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