Children and adolescents are wanted for a study that will record the prevalence of mental disorders and the general state of mental wellbeing among youths in Malta.

The study results will help professionals tailor services to meet the needs of local young people.

Rosemarie Sacco, who is leading the research, told Times of Malta that greater pressure on families and a shrinking support system have seen a universal increase of psychological distress, with mental disorders becoming the leading cause of disability in those aged under 25 years.

The World Health Organization estimates that over half of all cases of mental disorders would have begun before age 14, however, the majority remain untreated well into adulthood.

“If children with mental health problems are not identified and helped in a timely manner, they could have less fulfilling lives and risk exclusion from school, have difficulties with finding a job or securing intimate relationships and also have a higher chance of brushing with criminality,” Dr Sacco warned.

The research, by the Association for Child and Adolescent Mental Health, will include a random sample of 400 children aged between five and 16, from state, Church and private schools across Malta.

If children with mental health problems are not identified and helped in a timely manner, they could have less fulfilling lives

Those aged between five and 10 will not be taking part in interviews, as the re-searchers will only interview their parents and teachers. However, those aged 11 and up can be part of the interviews.

Dr Sacco, a psychiatric registrar who is completing her training in the UK, noted that despite the importance of helping children at an early stage, local services may not be meeting their needs.

Right now, she added, human resource allocation in mental health services offered to young people was blind sighted since it was not informed by epidemiological studies, as was the case in other deve-loped countries.

“In fact, many children with psychological difficulties are not identified and are left to struggle alone without being given the appropriate help that would positively influence their trajectory in life,” she said.

“And children who do seek help have to wait for over a year before being seen by a psychiatrist or psychologist in governmental services.”

Epidemiological data is therefore needed to help professionals develop mental health services for children and young people in Malta.

This has also been acknowledged by the Malta Mental Health Strategy published in December 2018. It encourages practising clinicians and NGOs to come together to carry out such studies and facilitate better planning for mental health services.

One of the aims of the study is to provide policy makers with the relevant information to make evidence-based policy decisions on mental health services for children and young people.

The results would also allow professionals to compare the mental well-being, rates of mental disorders and their circumstances in Malta to those of other countries and identify problems specific to the island.

This study is partly funded by the Malta Council for the Voluntary Sector.

All interviews are expected to be completed by May 2020 and interested schools can get in touch on rosemarie.a.sacco@gov.mt.

How interviews will be carried out

The sample will be weighted to ensure it is representative of all children in Malta.

Interviewers, who are professionals that have been trained specifically for this study, will contact the parent and if consent for participation is confirmed, an appointment for the interview is scheduled at a date and time that is appropriate for the participants. Interviews can be held at the school or clinics (including Mater Dei Hospital).

Information given will remain confidential, data will be password protected and no personal details can ever be traced back to the individual that provided the information.