Mater Researcher takes steps to understand the impact of good mental health in children

Mater Researcher takes steps to understand the impact of good mental health in children

Often when we hear the words ‘mental health’ it is within the context of older children and adults, but rarely do we consider mental health in the context of infants.

Mater Researcher Dr Samudragupta (Sam) Bora is exceptionally passionate about his work on neurodevelopment in premature babies and explains why good mental health is so important.

“Good mental health is incredibly important throughout your life.  Having young children start out with good mental health builds a solid foundation for the rest of their lives enabling them to be successful in social and occupational functioning, having positive relationships and ensuring they can be good parents to their children when they’re older,” Dr Bora said.

“Infant mental health refers to the development of social and emotional functioning from birth to three years—and obviously for the young child this implies forming secure relationships with parents and siblings and being able to manage emotions as they learn and explore their environment.”

Dr Bora is currently undertaking research in Mater Mothers’ Hospitals to answer a range of questions in relation to high-risk babies, particularly those born prematurely, with the goal of being able to improve a child’s quality of life in the long-term.  

“The goal is to understand the architecture of children’s brains and the lasting impacts on mental health and other developmental outcomes,” Dr Bora said.

“Being able to identify any changes and understand what this might mean can help us in developing early interventions to stop or decrease the changes and ultimately improve a child’s quality of life.”

“Like many of my colleagues, we are interested in developing, discovering, and delivering.  That means, developing a better understanding of the nature of these developmental problems; discovering the underlying neurological and social processes leading to these problems; delivering an efficient plan for parents to help improve their child’s life.”

While many parents may worry whether their toddler’s behaviour is ‘normal’, Dr Bora said the key indicators to be aware of included relationship disturbances, parent-child attachment issues and poor self-regulation. 

“In the clinic, infant mental health is typically assessed using standardised questionnaires or rating scales, such as the Infant Toddler Socio Emotional Assessment (ITSEA), or similar tools, where parents or primary caregivers respond to a series of questions about their child’s behaviour typically over the past six months that enable us to recognise any areas of concern where the child may be performing at a lower developmental level than typically expected for that age-range,” Dr Bora said.

“If you have any concerns about your child’s behaviour, always seek guidance from your GP who is best placed to refer you to an appropriate specialist if this is required.”

“There may be a long-term impact as a result of poor mental health as a child.  Mental health matters at every stage of your life and infant mental health can impact on educational attainment, social behaviour and parenting,” Dr Bora said.

“I am just so passionate about this opportunity to make meaningful contributions towards improving a child’s, and their family’s, quality of life. With my preterm research, I want to find an appropriate answer to the question that I often get asked by parents—what’s the long-term developmental prognosis for my premature baby?”

“Every day we take small steps towards being able to answer that question effectively.”

Dr Samudragupta Bora is Group Leader, Neurodevelopmental Follow-Up and Outcomes, Mothers, Babies and Women's Health Program at Mater Research Institute—UQ (MRI-UQ).

 

 

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