Identifying mental health risks during separation

Jamie Lee, Principal Researcher at Relationships Australia SA, recently attended the 13th Australian Institute of Family Studies conference in Melbourne, where he presented his findings on the effectiveness of universal mental health risk screening to identify mental health risks in families during mediation. Here are his findings…

Many referrals from Relationships Australia SA’s iKiDs program to the Adelaide Family Relationship Centre indicated that children experiencing mediation display much higher distress levels than typical Aussie children, which prompted practitioners to ask “Are all kids suffering when their parents do mediation?”

To find out, the Adelaide Family Relationship Centre launched universal mental health risk screening to uncover the scale of mental health problems in these families and whether the organisation had the capacity to effectively address these issues.

Universal mental health risk screening involves screening every family for mental health risks during intake and assessment. Practitioners can usually get a good idea about mental health risk from clients spending just five minutes per child and two minutes per adult on screening, making universal risk screening a time-efficient approach.

The results show that over two thirds (68.8%) of the 238 families screened so far have no or low risk of mental health problems. In 13.8% of cases where a risk of mental health problems had been identified, families had supports in place or the mediator had already identified a counselling referral. In a further 8.3% of cases where mental health risks were identified, the mediator was able to manage the risks within their mediation. The final 9.2% of children or adults were identified as high risk of a mental health problem with no suitable supports in place.

Of those 9.2%, half took up the offer of a counselling referral during follow up, with the other half opting to manage the issue themselves.

This review uncovered two important points: 1) that the majority of children and parents have low risk of mental health problems when parents have separated and 2) that when mental health risks are identified through universal screening, practitioners are well positioned to respond to clients using existing resources intervention. In this way, universal screening is highly valued by mediators who see it as another set of eyes looking out for families with mental health problems or offering ideas for responding to them. Client feedback was also overwhelmingly positive, with many appreciating their practitioners taking the time to check in with them.

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