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Trends in pre-existing mental health disorders among parents of infants born in Western Australia from 1990 to 2005

It has long been established that parental mental health can affect children’s outcomes.1 These outcomes not only relate to children’s mental health but also language development, behaviour and physical health.2 An intergenerational pathway of how parental mental health can adversely affect children’s development has been suggested, which includes the direct effects of the illness and associated contextual stressors, such as poverty and disruptions to caregiving.3 Social welfare agencies have reported increasing numbers of families facing complex issues, including parental mental health problems and substance use, resulting in concerns about children’s wellbeing.4,5

While Australia has good data on the rates of mental health disorders in the Australian community, the prevalence of mental health disorders in parents is difficult to estimate. The National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing reported that 25% of individuals aged 16–44 years had a mental health disorder in the 12 months before completing the survey;6