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Mental Health in children

Mental health is a state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community." According to the WHO (World Health Organization)

Mental health illness is a condition that comprises a range of different mental problems that involves emotions, abnormal thoughts, behavior change and relationship with others. It can be difficult for parents, teachers, and caregivers to notice it especially on children. It requires keen observations of behavioral change, mood and the responsive nature of a child.

Based on the World Health Organisation (WHO) statistics, between 10 and 20 percent of children and adolescents globally suffer from mental disorders like depression."Mental illness is a major problem in Kenya. But due to low awareness, stigma, and discrimination, the condition is still rife in the country," said Jacinta Sila, a mental health expert at World Vision Kenya.

According to WHO statistics, 1 in 4 persons suffers from a mental disorder. Among Kenyan women, depression and anxiety are the highest ranked mental health issues. Mental Disorders are considered the continent's silent epidemic because most times they remain un-diagnosed and un-managed

There are several mental illnesses that tend to affect child and adults as well:

Anxiety disorder: This is when an individual has a severe fear or anxiety, which is linked to certain objects or situations.

Panic disorder - the child experiences sudden paralyzing terror or a sense of imminent disaster

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) - the child has obsessions and compulsions. Constant stressful thoughts (obsessions), and a powerful urge to perform repetitive acts, such as hand washing (compulsion).

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): this can occur after somebody has been through a traumatic event - something horrible or frightening that they experienced or witnessed.

Major depression: the child is no longer interested in and does not enjoy activities and events that they previously liked. There are extreme or prolonged periods of sadness.

Bipolar disorder:  previously known as manic-depressive illness, or manic depression. The child switches from episodes of euphoria (mania) to depression (despair).

Schizophrenia disorders: It is the most common form of the disorder. It is a highly complex condition. Schizophrenia normally begins between the ages of 15 and 25. The child has thoughts that appear fragmented; they also find it hard to process information. This has seen children unable to grasp information even in the classroom and one may mistake it as poor performance in school. This at times leads parents to transfer children from one school to another.

It is only proper if one can take the child to a proper health facility for the mental health issue to be diagnosed and for the condition to be managed. If the conditions are not diagnosed earlier it may lead to autism or the child might have other delays.

Some of the mental illnesses may lead parents and caregiver to be in denial of the child’s condition. Depression and bipolar disorder are seen even as young from children in primary schools. Sometimes children are unable to explain themselves of the pressure or situations they are in and they end up converting their emotional problems to physical ones. This is known as compulsion disorder. It is important to keep track of a Child’s changing behavior and give them a break or attention to rejuvenate themselves.

Different children have different temperaments and it might be difficult for the parent or caregiver to notice any unusual changes. Denial of a child’s mental illness by parents or caregivers delays their treatment and care. Thus, one needs a professional to tell whether it’s a mental health disorder or temperament. Treatment of a child’s mental illness might be lifelong. If not carefully treated, it may lead to substance use or abuse by the child.

Situations around childbirth are critical towards a child’s mental health and the challenges can be noticed as early as two years of age. Parents, teachers, and caregivers should be keen to detect and manage any form of mental health issues. It is important to enhance educating society and schools on mental health illness and also prevent stigmatization.

Sometimes, parents may think it is too early to put children under medication but it is vital for them to do so, since mental illness may affect their growth and development. When most children are depressed they become disruptive and irritable hence, we should not dismiss children without trying to understand what is happening.

There’s a need to introduce life skills lessons to our children since they help them understand their strengths and weaknesses and also understanding of how to relate with others. It is best for children to be assessed when they are not performing or have discipline issues in school. Parents and caregivers should not put too much pressure on children by emphasizing on education since it may lead them to break down.

It will even be better if every school had an educational psychologist to evaluate children to understand the condition they’re suffering from. With early diagnosis and proper medication then some conditions are treatable. We should not ignore any signs and behavioral changes that our children tend to show.

Photo by: Align Capital Region, Busting Childhood Mental Health Stigma, Modern Mississauga

  • By Constance Ndeleko
  • 2019-03-19
  • Children
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