What builds positive mental health?

Child mental health promotion usually focuses on reducing problems. But focusing on psychological strengths can potentially improve positive mental health as well.

Research Summary

  • Better mental health competence is found in children who are girls, non-Indigenous, attended preschool, lived in advantaged areas, or had effective oral communication skills.

What is the research about?

Child mental health is important for future emotional and physical health. It can also affect future work productivity.

Current child mental health efforts aim to reduce the number and severity of problems. However, a lack of mental health problems does not mean positive mental health.

An important aspect of positive mental health is competence, which is the ability to adapt to different problems.

An Australian study looked at the factors affecting mental health and children’s mental health competence.

What did the researchers do?

Researchers collected Australian Early Development Census (AEDC) data from 2012 for 275,800 children. The AEDC is a modified version of the Early Development Instrument (EDI).

Mental health competence was measured by the Social Competence and Emotional Maturity domains of the AEDC.

The study looked at several factors:

  • Demographics (age, gender, language, Indigenous status)
  • Oral communication in the classroom
  • Non-parental care before school entry
  • Socioeconomic status of the community
  • Location (major city, regional, or remote)

What did the researchers find?

Higher mental health competence was found in children who:

  • Were females
  • Did not have an Indigenous status
  • Lived in more advantaged areas
  • Attended preschool
  • Had effective oral communication

There was a very strong association between mental health competence and oral communication.

What does this research mean?

The results suggest many inequalities are already present in children by the time they go to school. That means population-level interventions may not need to be mental health interventions. Focusing on the social determinants of mental health may prove successful.

Boosting preschool attendance and effective oral communication skills are examples of potential large-scale intervention efforts.