by: Suellen Hinde
CHILDREN as young as 11 should be screened for mental illness and given preventive therapy in schools, health experts say.
Primary and high school screening programs should be implemented Australia-wide to help treat the disease later in life, claims a new report from some of the country's leading health economists.
Mental health bodies have backed the plan, but youth advocates have raised concerns it could lead to Australia becoming a "Prozac nation".
New research was undertaken by health economists at Deakin, Melbourne and Queensland universities as part of a bigger project looking at the cost effectiveness of preventive health interventions for the National Health and Medical Research Council.
The analysis found 35 per cent fewer children in the 11 to 17-year age group were likely to develop depression after screening and intervention.
Mental health experts from The Black Dog Institute have thrown their support behind the plan.
"If we could screen our children for cancer at school and prevent it we would, so why not mental illness?," Black Dog Institute executive director Professor Helen Christensen said.
Prof Christensen said the development of depression could begin at 11 with the onset of puberty.
One in five 13-year-olds in Australia have depression.
"This is an opportunity for the Government to do something," she said.
But youth advocates are concerned it could increase the use of medication in young people.
Youth Affairs Network of Queensland is concerned the proposal could stigmatise young people.
"We have evidence of a lot of stigma around the new disorders that have been created such as ADHD," director Siyavash Doostkhah said.