'Parents need lessons for children's mental health'

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Parents should have lessons provided by the government on how to raise their children, Britain's leading public health expert has said.

Professor John Ashton, outgoing president of the Faculty of Public Health (FPH), said children were neglected by some schools and parents.

He said the state should help stop children being crippled by conditions such as anxiety, anorexia and obesity.

The FPH has released a report calling for mental health improvements.

It says: "Mental, emotional or psychological problems account for more disability than all physical health problems put together.

"Although we cannot say yet exactly how much of the burden of mental illness could be prevented, we know prevention is possible."

Human cost

One in 10 children aged five to 16 years had a mental health problem that warranted support and treatment, the report said.

And the quality of the parent-child relationship and parenting more broadly played a primary role.

Prof Ashton said that, given the huge financial and human cost of mental health problems, more should be done to tackle their causes.

He said: "We've done well in terms of producing live, healthy babies over the last 60, 70 years, but, by the time children are leaving school, between 10% and 15% of them are in trouble emotionally or mentally, and suffer from things like obesity, eating disorders, anxiety and stress.

"Having produced healthy babies we then set about neglecting them."

Prof Ashton suggested parenting advice and support could be provided by investing in existing networks - such as health visitors and schools. And by using social media to reach parents and setting up 24/7 helplines - for example for people raising adolescents.

Parenting key

Prof Sarah Stewart-Brown, who produced the report, said diet and activity played a role in mental health but "supporting parenting is key. The first 1,001 days of a child's life are particularly important.

"Over three-quarters of all mental health problems emerge in childhood and adolescence."

Programmes based in schools, workplaces, doctors' surgeries, and in the community could help, she said.

The Faculty of Public Health sets standards for public health specialists in the UK and covers 3,300 professionals.

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