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A sweeping study of children's mental health is being updated (Getty Images )

A Hamilton study that became the gold standard globally for measuring children’s mental health is being updated and will once again be lead by Hamilton experts.

The Ontario Child Health Study was co-authored by the late Dr. Dan Offord in 1983 and found that one in five children has some type of mental health problem. It was the first time that one in five figure had been determined with such comprehensive data.

The study involved 3,294 children (ages 4 to 16) from 1,869 families across Ontario.

 It also established Canada as a world leader in the study of child health and development and confirmed Hamilton’s place among those experts who were working to pull theissue of children's mental health out from the shadows.

This time the study will be even more ambitious in both the number of children who are involved and the goals. This one will include more than 10,000 children, ages 4 to 18, who are living in Ontario in 7,020 families and 180 neighbourhoods and attending 240 schools throughout the province.

Has mental illness increased?

The study will be done in collaboration with Statistics Canada and will look at specific risk factors to children, including increases in family breakdowns as well as the growth of visible minorities and poverty.

It will also look at the prevalence of childhood mental disorders such as depression, anxiety and ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) and assess how they may be linked to other health conditions as well as with social and academic difficulties.

Perhaps the most important aspect of the new study is that it will determine if the prevalence of childhood mental disorders increased in the 30 years between 1983 and 2013.

Dr. Marie Bountrogianni, Interim Dean at the G. Raymond Chang School at Ryerson University, said the study is important because "it will confirm whether the incidence of mental health problems among children is going up or whether it’s just being reported more often."

"This is significant because it will shed some new light on the rates. I hear all these stories anecdotally from acquaintances and people around me and it does seem to be going up which concerns me."

Information will also be collected from parents, teachers, older children, and administrative records from Ontario service providers. Alex Thomson, executive director of Lynwood Services, said he wouldn’t be surprised if the numbers have gone up.

"I wouldn’t be surprised if the study confirmed it’s an even bigger issue," said Thomson.

"This data will help us in terms of what we need to do about about it and how we can help these children."

Several key people from across Canada will be involved in the study, including Ian

Manion, executive director from the Centre of Excellence for Children's Mental Health in Ottawa.

Key investigators

The lead investigator will be Dr. Michael Boyle, who is a professor in the department of psychiatry and behavioural neurosciences at McMaster University and a member of the Offord Centre for Child Studies affiliated with McMaster University and Hamilton Health Sciences.

The study will be co-lead by Kathy Georgiades, assistant professor in the department of psychiatry and behavioural neurosciences and also a member of Offord Centre.

Offord was considered one of the world's leading experts on child development and his study lead to the founding of the Canadian Centre for Studies of Children at Risk at McMaster University. The centre was later renamed in honour of Offord's commitment to children's mental health. It was this commitment to helping children that earned him the Order of Canada in 2001.

There were two follow-up studies to the original 1983 study which included the same group of children and were done in 1987 and 2000. At the time of the second follow-up, the children were between 21 and 33 years old.

The second follow-up examined the significance of how childhood experiences effected a person when they grew up in terms of how successful they were at work, in their parenting and in social integration.

The new study is being funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.