BACKGROUND: Prevention is key to reducing socioeconomic inequities in children's mental health problems, especially given limited availability and accessibility of services. We investigated the potential to reduce inequities for disadvantaged children by improving parental mental health and preschool attendance in early childhood.
METHODS: Data from the nationally representative birth cohort, Longitudinal Study of Australian Children (N = 5107, commenced in 2004), were used to examine the impact of socioeconomic disadvantage (0-1 year) on children's mental health problems (10-11 years). Using an interventional effects approach, we estimated the extent to which inequities could be reduced by improving disadvantaged children's parental mental health (4-5 years) and their preschool attendance (4-5 years).
RESULTS: Disadvantaged children had a higher prevalence of elevated mental health symptoms (32.8%) compared with their nondisadvantaged peers (18.7%): confounder-adjusted difference in prevalence is 11.6% (95% confidence interval: 7.7% to 15.4%). Improving disadvantaged children's parental mental health and their preschool attendance to the level of their nondisadvantaged peers could reduce 6.5% and 0.3% of socioeconomic differences in children's mental health problems, respectively (equivalent to 0.8% and 0.04% absolute reductions). If these interventions were delivered in combination, a 10.8% (95% confidence interval: 6.9% to 14.7%) higher prevalence of elevated symptoms would remain for disadvantaged children.
CONCLUSIONS: Targeted policy interventions that improve parental mental health and preschool attendance for disadvantaged children are potential opportunities to reduce socioeconomic inequities in children's mental health problems. Such interventions should be considered within a broader, sustained, and multipronged approach that includes addressing socioeconomic disadvantage itself.
- mental health
- parental mental health
- socioeconomic factors