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Parents’ perception of children’s mental health: seeing the signs but not the problems


Background It is a public heath priority to understand why many children with mental health problems fail to access mental health services. This study aims to quantify under-recognition of children’s mental health problems by parents across income quintiles.

Methods We estimated under-recognition with parent-reported mental health problems and the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ) using a nationally representative Australian data set for children aged 4–15 years with 24 269 person-wave observations.

Results Under-recognition was the highest in the lowest income quintile, with 11.5% of children from the lowest income quintile families who scored in the clinical range on the SDQ perceived by parents as having no mental health problems. For the highest income quintile this was 2.4%. In terms of gender and age, under-recognition was greater for boys and younger children.

Conclusions Parent’s mental health literacy, especially for low-income families, warrants prioritised attention from researchers, clinicians and policymakers.

  • mental health
  • parent perception
  • income-related inequality
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