Screening 3 years olds for mental health

(Google imagines)
THREE-YEAR-OLDS will be screened for early signs of mental illness in a new federal government program that will consider behaviour such as sleeping with the light on, temper tantrums or extreme shyness as signs of possible psychological problems. The Healthy Kids Check - starting on July 1 - will be predominantly conducted by GPs, who will refer children with troubling behaviour to psychologists or paediatricians.

The program is expected to identify more than 27,000 children who the government believes will benefit from additional support, but who some doctors say will be wrongly labelled as having a mental illness.

''We have to be careful we don't medicalise normal behaviour and that's a real caution with children,'' the AMA president, Steve Hambleton, said. ''There are genuine kids who need extra support to help them integrate into normal kindergartens and classrooms and a lot of the funding for that is driven by diagnoses so there's a perverse incentive to diagnose conditions like autism. There are kids who need it but we don't want to make normal kids abnormal.'' (news link)

I don't know how many of you (in Australia) read this in your newspapers over the weekend, but alarm bells rang when my husband and I read this news article.  Whilst I am all for mental health intervention and the need to do something to reduce the number of people self-harming and committing suicide. I do have big reservations with mass screenings of three year olds for the early signs of mental illness. 

My son (now 24 years old) didn't make friends easily, wasn't a team player (a loner), struggled with learning and saw the world just a little differently. He still does. He would have been picked up under this new screening and been "labelled" for the rest of his schooling days - baggage that would have been an obstacle for him for 12 years. This is my biggest worry and the same concerns raised by the Australian Medical Association (AMA) - kids are not all the same, they come in all different shapes and sizes and they don't always fit the "norm" however that doesn't mean they have a mental illness.  My son certainly sees the world differently but he is as normal as you or I.  Once called eccentric, is now considered abnormal and schools only want to see those children who conform, my son is not one for conforming. 

The other issues I have is the person carrying out the screening - GPs, they are not experts in mental health and therefore are they really the most suitable person to do the screening?  They will be "trained", but considering this is being done across Australia, I wonder what the training is and is it adequate?  And do we really want to have our children sent off to psychologists at this tender age, we might just end up with more kids screwed up that before we started. 

It isn't compulsory and I wouldn't participate if my sons were at school, however will parents be pressured into participating and do parents feel empowered to say no.

Finally, this is very expensive . . . I wonder if the results will be worth it. Will it reduce adult mental health issues?  I don't think so.

PS just had a thought, some young children do suffer from anxiety (not that I see this as a mental illness) and others from disruptive behaviour - but after reading Glenys' blog on "Let the children play", how many of the problems see today are connected to children not playing enough outdoors (fresh air and physical exercise), lack of creative play, not eating enough healthy foods (too much processed foods) and parents not allowing their children to be children (keeping them "safe" indoors).  Such a change to how we were brought up a generation a go much be having some affect on children.


  1. Jo, I agree with all your points. I had anxiety problems from an early age, and perhaps my parents would have benefited from realizing that, but it would not have helped *me* growing up with the idea that I wasn't "normal". I already knew that. I was a loner, I loved my world of books, I was highly creative and strong willed. In some ways I knew that I was "different" from many of my friends. But, it would have been a real hindrance to be "diagnosed" as abnormal for me. As it was, I did grow up with a good level of normalcy, because my parents, despite not understanding my anxiety struggles, did understand that I was high strung (as it used to be called) and that I thrived with a good level of control over me whilst having freedom to play out my active imaginations. By discarding the television and replacing it with books, encouraging outdoor play, and encouraging arts and crafts, they gave me a wonderful outlet for those impulses that might have been channeled into troublesome behavior otherwise.

    Yes, I suffered from nightmares and other "weird" ideas as a child. In retrospect I see some of that as anxiety and some of it as viewing the world differently from others. I also see it as the natural result of an extra busy mind, which I've always had. I also experienced the direct intervention of God as my Comforter at an early age, which is a sweet memory as an adult.

    Solomon said, For a dream cometh through the multitude of business; and a fool's voice is known by multitude of words. Ecclesiastes 5:3 Kids' minds must be busy at a frantic rate sometimes growing, learning, trying to make sense out of all the complications and apparently un-understandable things that bombard them. No wonder they suffer from nightmares or other complications sometimes.

    (Sorry this is so long. I didn't mean to ramble so much, but I'm horrified to think what this will mean to some children. We've seen "diagnoses" made in order for a school to obtain funding for their "special needs" students. We knew a family that became the victims of this.)

    1. I completely understand where you are coming from. My son is different and I allowed him to remain different, but have taught him how to fit into society so he can function e.g. go to work, work in a team, control his "bouncing" when he is at work. And he can. It takes effort, but he knows how to act "normal". But when he is at home, he can be his mad self. He has found a lovely young lady who accepts him "just the way he is" and they make a wonderful couple. Labelling children who are different is completely wrong and damaging.

  2. Jo, I saw this on the news the other day and thought "Here we go - how many little kids will be labeled as "abnormal" for reacting in what has been perfectly normal ways until recent times?"

    When my youngest son was in year 2 at Primary school, part way through the year he got a teacher who had been transfered from the high-school section down to the little children, because she couldn't cope with the teenagers.

    She had no training for kindergarten to year 2 kids but brought all her "pre-experience" to bear on the smaller kids.

    She singled out my son because his handwriting wasn't neat enough and he was sent off for "testing" at the local hospital to see if he had developmental problems.
    The diagnosis was that he was very intelligent with some minor small motor issues which would sort themselves out eventually.
    The professional verdict was "he's just a late-bloomer when it comes some hand/eye co-ordination, but it's not an issue to worry about." Nothing more!

    But at school he was rejected by his classmates as "retarded" because the teacher arranged for him to be taken out of class to go throw balls around with an OT.
    He was missing out on some of the things his class was doing and was getting frightened and worried that he actually might be "abnormal" like the kids were saying about him!

    So..we took him and his older brother out of that institution and home-schooled them!
    His handwriting came good, of course.
    Today, he is a locally known artist with the paintbrush and any musical instrument you care to place in his very capable and well co-ordinated hands.

    I agree that it's very important to pick up on the children who have serious problems.
    But I think a lot of people expect kids to be mini-adults these days and have forgotten that a little child with childish fears and some slower growth areas is actually very normal!

    1. I understand this problem as it isn't far different to my son's own experiences. However we kept him in school and the college we selected was the making of him. Suddenly he was surrounded by people who accepted him as he was and his creativity was allow to grow and develop. He also met the girl of his dreams (that took a lot of courage) who will be his wife next year.

  3. Wow, this is awful! The more time that passes, the more such articles and stories I read or hear about, the more I feel blessed to be able to raise my children myself and have the ability to homeschool them.

    Children are such individuals - what's happening to them now is that people are expecting them all to fit a mould... What happens when everyone fits a mould?? Well, history can show us that. It all evolves into mob-mentality, or sheep-mentality, and a form of brain-washing everyone to believe what we want them to believe both about themselves and others. Remember where mob-mentality/brainwashing lead countries like Germany in WWII...

    Why would anyone even THINK of doing something like this? I think part of the reason is because parents are no longer parents. They are more like boarding house keepers - having children board at their house... rather than actually raising them, seeing where their troubles are, working through them, helping and moulding their children into responsible adults. And because parents no longer exist as they used to, the government or do-gooders see a need for children's care, and they fill that need with something completely ridiculous and inadequate.

    And where will this lead, anyway? Seriously, how effectively can mental illnesses be picked up at that age? I mean, THREE years old? That seems to me to be completely and utterly absurd!! :( It's during the "teenage" years that most changes occur in children (at least on a mental and emotional level, without even thinking of some of the physical changes), and the only way for them to be 'fixed' would be to wind the world back about 100 or so years and live it over without barbie dolls and models presenting a ridiculous body image, live it over without allowing people to turn to their peers in preference to the wisdom of older people, live it over without schools dividing families, without public and encouraged sexual promiscuity... and so on and on. But that can't happen simply because we are on a path that leads into prophecy being fulfilled. This world will only (sadly) get worse. :(

    1. Clara - even though you are home-schooling, the government is likely to use Family Tax Benefit A as a way of forcing parents to "health check" their children if they want to receive the tax benefit. They can be very sneaky in the ways they "force" parents to participate in this sort of thing. They can be very cunning.

      I do wonder when workplaces will do mental health checks on all staff and send those in "need" off to treatment. It is a great way to control the population - all done by "do-gooders" who think they are doing what is best for all, without consult use, the population.

      It is scary.

  4. I think that the target is wrong. Parents of three year olds need to be tested to see if they are using the right skills, and applying the right discipline before they wreck the kids that they are responsible for. Working in mental health, we have so many young adults, whose lives have in large part, been shaped by parents who fail to discipline, fail to love and care and cherish their child. So at a young age, 10, 11, 12, are already smoking pot, using alcohol, staying out late with dire consequences. When they hit 16-18 the first signs of mental illness are becoming prominent, and because of the lack of social structure in terms of family, drugs, alcohol, and poor self care become more and more inherent, none of which assists the person in getting their mental illness under control. Parents blame the system when their child suicides for example, and in many cases, one has to ask, where were you when they were growing up? Why did you accept your 13 year old taking drugs? I particularly like what M. E Stephens says about her parents, they recognised that there was a problem, and implemented change to the parenting process, to ensure their child grew in that loving care (that is how it sounds as above). Mental illness should be just that, an illness, but it has become to 1000's of young people a lifestyle of poor choices, because, they lacked the parenting that taught them right from wrong, about being disciplined and self controlled. Sure, I have no children, so lack that experience, I just see case after case, where, when reading the developmental history, the story is the same, the abscence of parents when it mattered, the absence of someone who cared, and most of all, the abscence of Christian values of a Christian home.

    1. Stephen, I did grow up in a close, loving Christian family. My parents went to a lot of trouble to help me with my socialization issues. I never felt from them that I was "different". It was my relationships with my peers and outside influences that gave me that impression. Especially as I got older my interests were often considerably different from those of the government school kids I knew. One reason for that was that we were taught strong Christian values and also encouraged to expand our skills and interests in ways that the young people in the public institutions usually were not.

      My parents started homeschooling us when I was about 13 (8th grade U.S.). I am extremely thankful for that because it took a huge load off of me and gave me the freedom to grow in ways that would've been otherwise difficult for me.

    2. Stephen: I was at the shopping centre the other day and had to listen to a mother yelling abuse at some other adult whilst her 3 or 4 year old stood next to her. If this what this child endure often, then what hope does she have as a teenager. Some parents should not be parents.

  5. By the way, I still have to have a night light. I get up too often to use the restroom and I don't like trying to find my way in the dark - especially with scorpions "co-habitating" with us. :-P Also, if I don't have a light on my mind tends to morph things in the room into looking like something else. Even with our low level night light I still get this sometimes. It's just my brain trying to explain what my eyes are seeing when I'm not fully awake yet. But this could be frightening to a child. It is to me sometimes. Why is having a night light considered a sign of possible mental illness? That boggles my mind. It was considered normal in my family - a point of comfort, not a sign something was wrong.

  6. Yes I heard this very briefly on the weekend!
    3 is way too young for any of this testing in my humble opinion! Just from my own experience, my dd was a very shy and clingy childat that age. I wonder what they would have labelled her if we had to do this ( not that I would anyway!) but it's scary! She is now a confident young 8 year old though i think she may always lean towards being shy who knows! She's just a normal child. My friends told me she was that way because she didn't go to childcare or preschool!!! Guess what she never has and she's come out of herself without any outside intervention. I am just so thankful I knew about homeschooling and that God has made a way for us to homeschool her. :)

    1. Children don't need to be all the same. I was a shy child and now I can talk to anyone, perhaps I would have been targeted too as I was a bit of a slow learner.

      This is why we need to be vigilant at what is going on around us, so we are ready to react if necessary.

  7. Well just by seeing all the comments you have hit a nerve...I so agree with your take on this...and although I don't know if it is happening in America yet, I am sure we aren't far behind. All of this concerns me so much. I home schooled which saved me from having my children tested but I have friends right now dealing with test the schools want to have done on their young sad. No home schooling isn't the answer, just saying it helped me to not have my children labeled, which many of them would have been.

    I agree with the need to play outdoors...and I am really making sure my youngest does that as much as the older ones did.

    Oh wow..thanks for sharing, you always stay on top of things and make us aware of what is happening.

    1. It might be a bit harder in the USA as it is bigger, therefore more costly - but I don't think we are far from full on screening of individuals (big and small people) to try and "fix" them.

      No more individuals allow:(

  8. I too have a story about my son. When he was young and in primary school he was very outgoing and naughty a clever teacher put him next to a very shy chinese girl who was so quite she never said anything in the class, they both had a good effect on each other he was quieter and she was more interactive so sometimes common sense is to answer.

    1. Sounds like a perfect and sensible arrangement - more common sense is needed - but is lacking in both government and the community.

  9. :-( Sad face. My two three year old grandsons are very different in almost every aspect and yet both so very normal. I have known mums who medicated their children thinking them way to active and hard to handle. Some were no different to the other children around but had parents less patient/ organised/ disciplined. Oh, no two families, no two children are alike. This sounds like a very big potential social issue in the future eg. a whole lot of labelled children becoming unstable adults :-(

    1. Are we trying to create robots - children who are all the same - it is not going to fix the adult mental health problem, I think it will simply create more problems and perhaps more anxious parents who will then need help!

  10. I have a bone to pick with your comment of "some young children do suffer from anxiety (not that I see this as a mental illness)".

    Certinally, regular anxiety such as what a regular person experiences on a regular day is not a mental illness, same as regular sadness such as what a regular person experiences on a regular day is not depression. But, as someone who has experienced panic attacks, who has been unable to go outside due to anxiety, who has been diagnosed with this as a medical condition, I beg to differ. Anxiety disorders exist, often occuring in conjunction with depression, and while sometimes regular therapy can help a person through it, medicines can be administrated and do help, same as medications aid in other illnesses.

    I agree with Stephen, though, they're targeting the wrong audience. Teenagers probably need this help more often, though, his argument seems to stem from the use of drugs, which seems strange, as, given the large number of teenagers and young adults I personally know who are diagnosed with mental illnesses including but not exclusive to depression and anxiety, only one uses drugs, and that was long after they were diagnosed with a depression that is inherited.

    A person can grow up in the happiest house with the most loving parents in a completely stress-free environment and still develop a mental illness. To imply that they can't is to patronise people with mental illnesses, and attempt to lay blame in a situation where sometimes, there is no one to blame.


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