Child Indicators Research

, Volume 12, Issue 3, pp 963–988 | Cite as

Poverty, Parental Mental Health and Child/Adolescent Mental Disorders: Findings from a National Australian Survey

  • Sarah E. JohnsonEmail author
  • David Lawrence
  • Francisco Perales
  • Janeen Baxter
  • Stephen R. Zubrick


The purpose of this study is to examine the association between poverty and child mental disorders, and in particular, address an important knowledge gap by examining the influence of primary carer mental health in these relationships. We extend previous research by differentiating by specific child mental disorders, age group (4–11 and 12–17 year-olds) and gender using data from a 2013/14 national survey of 4–17 year-olds in Australia, Young Minds Matter (N = 6310). Mental disorders were assessed using the Diagnostic Interview Schedule for Children – Version IV. Primary carer mental health problems were determined by three self-reported measures. We calculated a poverty line according to OECD standards. The greatest risk of any mental disorders when living in poverty was among 12–17 year-old males (unadjusted OR = 2.77; 95% CIs = 1.91–4.02), a significantly higher risk than for 4–11 year-old males, and particularly strong for Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). By disorder type, poverty was most strongly related to Conduct Disorder (CD) and least strongly related to Major Depressive Disorder (unrelated in adolescent females). When adjusting for primary carer mental health problems, the associations between poverty and child mental disorders were not statistically significant, except among 12–17 year-old males, and for CD and ADHD in the whole sample. Further adjustment for family structure and area-level disadvantage accounted for these associations. Our results demonstrated the importance of paying attention to parental and child mental health, and the child’s developmental stage and gender when assessing the welfare, social and health service needs of families and their children living in poverty.


Poverty Income Socioeconomic disadvantage Parental mental health Child and adolescent mental health Mental disorders 



The authors would like to thank the 6,310 families who gave their time to participate in the survey, Rajni Walia, Gerry Bardsley, the team at Roy Morgan Research, and the Survey Reference Group for their input into the design and conduct of the survey. The authors would also like to thank Margaret Cook for her dedication to the issue of improving the lives and opportunities of children whose parents have serious mental health problems, and for her input and guidance in producing this paper.


This research was supported by the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Children and Families over the Life Course (project number CE140100027). The views expressed herein are those of the authors and are not necessarily those of the Australian Research Council. This study uses data from Young Minds Matter which was funded by the Australian Government Department of Health.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Ethical Review

The research protocol for Young Minds Matter was approved by two institutional review boards – the Australian Government Department of Health Human Research Ethics Committee (Project 17/2012), and The University of Western Australia Human Research Ethics Committee (Project RA/4/1/5538). All research has been undertaken in accordance with Australia’s National Statement on Ethical Conduct in Human Research.

Conflict of Interest

The authors have no conflict of interest to report and certify responsibility for the manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V., part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sarah E. Johnson
    • 1
    Email author
  • David Lawrence
    • 2
  • Francisco Perales
    • 3
  • Janeen Baxter
    • 3
  • Stephen R. Zubrick
    • 1
  1. 1.Telethon Kids InstituteThe University of Western AustraliaSubiacoAustralia
  2. 2.Graduate School of EducationThe University of Western AustraliaPerthAustralia
  3. 3.Institute for Social Science ResearchThe University of QueenslandBrisbaneAustralia

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