Regional distribution of mental health risk at age 5 years in an Australian population sample

Ms Felicity Harris1, Professor Kimberlie Dean1,2, Associate Professor Kristin Laurens1,3, Dr Stacy Tzoumakis1,4, Professor Vaughan Carr1,5,6, Professor Melissa Green1,5

1University Of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia, 2Justice Health & Forensic Mental Network, Matraville, Australia, 3 School of Psychology and Counselling, Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, Australia, 4School of Criminology and Criminal Justice, Griffith University, Southport, Australia, 5Neuroscience Research Australia, Sydney, Australia, 6Department of Psychiatry, Monash University, Melbourne, Australia

We previously identified developmental patterns of childhood risk for mental illness at age ~5 years using the Australian Early Developmental Census (AEDC). Two of these developmental risk profiles, referred to as ‘pervasive risk’ (4.2%, characterised by high probability of developmental vulnerability across all 16 subdomains) and ‘misconduct risk’ (7.0%, characterised by a high probability of vulnerabilities in hyperactive, aggressive, and disrespectful behaviour), have shown strong associations with later health service contacts for mental disorders, when compared to the group of children showing virtually ‘no risk’ for later mental illness (77.3%). These risk profiles provide one avenue for identifying geographical regions with a high proportion of children at risk of mental disorders to assist in the allocation of early intervention services and other family supports. In this paper we present preliminary geospatial mapping to show the regional distribution of children showing ‘pervasive’ or ‘misconduct’ risk profiles at school entry, as those most strongly at risk for later mental disorders. Data for 82,891 children were drawn from the NSW Child Development Study, an intergenerational multi-agency linkage project being conducted for the 2009 NSW AEDC cohort. Using geographic information system (GIS) spatial techniques, choropleth maps showing the regional percentage of children with ‘pervasive’ or ‘misconduct’ risk according to Local Government Areas were generated using the child’s school postcode at age ~5 years (as recorded in the 2009 AEDC). Maps of the regional distribution of both of the risk profiles were similar across the state of NSW. All regions with a high proportion (more than 10%) of children with ‘pervasive risk’ were in regional areas, as were the majority of regions with a high proportion of children with ‘misconduct risk’. These findings highlight the potential to identify place-sensitive service needs when developing early prevention programs in the first 2000 days for emerging psychopathology.


Ms Felicity Harris is a Research Officer and PhD candidate at the UNSW Sydney. Ms Harris has a Masters in Clinical Epidemiology and experience in epidemiological research relevant to mental health, child protection, criminology and education. Her PhD research using the NSW Child Development Study cohort aims to determine the earliest predictors of developmental (age 5 years) risk profiles for later childhood mental disorders, as well as the associations between these early childhood risk profiles and later academic underachievement or self-reported psychopathology in middle childhood, as known precursors to adult mental disorders.