Leading doctors say more support is needed to prevent babies and young children from developing mental health problems later in life.
Their report shows there is growing evidence that intervening very early – from conception until age 5 – can help prevent conditions from arising or getting worse.
The Royal College of Psychiatrists is calling for more specialist services to be provided.
The government says the mental health of children and parents is the most important thing.
Officials said they were investing more in expanding NHS services, alongside funding schemes designed to support children and carers.
NHS data shows that around 5% of two to four year olds struggle with anxiety, behavioral disorders and neurodevelopmental conditions including ADHD.
A report by the Royal College of Psychiatrists found that half of all mental health conditions arise by the age of 14 and many begin to develop in the early years, making early action “vital.” “.
Dr Trudi Seneviratne, from the Royal College of Psychiatrists (RCPsych), said the majority of children under five with mental illness do not receive the level of support needed “to help them become productive adults , operate well and develop its full potential.”
She added: “The period from conception to five years of age is essential to ensure children’s healthy development into adulthood.
“Unfortunately, these years are often underappreciated in importance and many people don’t know what signs they should look out for.
“Parents, carers and society at large have an important role to play. This includes ensuring positive relationships and nurturing environments that support the foundations for social, emotional development and children’s cognition.”
Dr Seneviratne said anyone worried about their child’s persistent behavioral problems or feeding and sleeping problems should seek health advice.
RCPsych experts recommend several ways to prevent mental health problems in babies and children, including supporting mothers during pregnancy, working with parents to promote attachment with children and recommend parenting programs in the early stages of a child’s life.
They said many factors can increase the risk of developmental problems during childhood, such as alcohol or substance abuse during pregnancy and adverse childhood experiences including domestic violence. family, neglect and physical and mental abuse.
The report’s recommendations include:
- New specialist services across the UK for children under five, their parents and carers, with timely access to a team of people including speech and language therapists, psychologists psychologist and social worker
- Additional training for health workers on how to detect and support children under 5 years old with mental health problems
- Research more about the best ways to help young children
- Collect better data on young children with problems
- Support to help people better understand the mental health of children under 5 years old
The wide-ranging report is supported by a number of organizations including Unicef UK, the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
Joanna Moody, from Unicef UK, said: “Mental health in young children is often overlooked, but it lays the foundations for their future.”
She said the report provided “a strong evidence base for action to prioritize mental health right from the start of children’s lives”.
She added that many services have a “vital role” in supporting children’s mental health, including early education, social services, maternity, health screening and primary care.
- If you are affected by any of the issues raised in this story, you can visit BBC Action Line.
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