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Child poverty a significant mental health problem in NZ

16 December 2013

Child poverty a significant mental health problem in NZ - psychiatrists

The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists congratulates and commends the Children’s Commissioner, the JR McKenzie Trust and Otago University on producing the Annual Child Poverty Monitor.

‘New Zealand psychiatrists see the effects of child poverty on mental health every day. In our clinical work we are all too frequently confronted by the mental health consequences of early adversity in children, adolescents and adults. While health services can help to reduce some of these effects in individuals, they cannot address the problem as a whole’ says Dr Allister Bush, New Zealand Chair of the Faculty of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists.

‘We are particularly concerned about the serious deprivation experienced by 25% of the children in our country and the even worse results for Maori and Pasifika children, and those in some regions.

‘We agree that rigorous measures of child poverty are required so that trends can be tracked and the effectiveness of various interventions assessed. There is a substantial and growing body of evidence that childhood poverty has persistent and harmful effects on all aspects of health including educational, cognitive, emotional and social development. This evidence includes the work done by the Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Study, which has shown that childhood poverty has an independent and thus direct effect on poor life outcomes.

‘Dr Wills has stated that children in the poorest 10% of the population are ten times more likely to be admitted to hospital with inflicted injury than children in the wealthiest 10%. Such events frequently have lasting adverse effects on the mental health of victims, including post traumatic stress disorder, addictions, anxiety and mood problems.

‘Neuroscience tells us that the very early years are the most crucial for brain development, which may help to explain research finding that upward mobility does not mitigate or reverse the adverse effects of childhood poverty. Research from the Christchurch Health and Development study found that child poverty directly predicted lower levels of educational attainment and employment.

‘The causes of childhood poverty are numerous and complex, but that is all the more reason to investigate the matter systematically, thoroughly and energetically. The excellent work done to date should be absorbed and acted upon by policy makers. We endorse the Annual Child Poverty Monitor, and the 78 recommendations of the EAG. We urge a whole of government approach to implementing these recommendations and recognising our special responsibilities to New Zealand’s children.’

About the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists
Celebrating 50 years in 2013, the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists (RANZCP) prepares medical specialists in the field of psychiatry; supports and enhances clinical practice; advocates for people affected by mental illness and advises governments on mental health care. For information about our work, our members, or our history visit www.ranzcp.org

ENDS

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