By Kartik Bajoria
Children Mental Health Awareness: Parents spend immense time, energy, effort and money on children's upbringing. For most parents however, the areas of focus are schooling, academics, and extra-curricular pursuits. Very few parents, if any, are aware enough to spot and address mental health concerns in children. Especially in India, mental health problems are either not recognised or dismissed as a passing phase. This can have catastrophic and permanently damaging consequences for the child.
In fact, the World Health Organisation estimates that globally, as many as 20 per cent children experience some mental health issues. With the pressing demands of modern life, increased and intense competition, the performance pressure on children, we as responsible parents simply cannot ignore their mental health. For this, we must first understand what typically constitutes the type of mental health problems children can face. Let us take a look at some more common facets of this.
Almost every child has worries, which is to be expected. However, there are scenarios due to which these worries take hold of a child and impede regular day-to-day functioning and interactions. If a child is overly worried about something, it can manifest in a range of problems such as social isolation, being extremely introverted and even more severe conditions like Obsessive Compulsions and PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder).
A phenomenon that is growing, Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder can be found in children who are unable to pay attention or focus on the task at hand. They usually act out, behave rashly and impulsively, and are a nervous bundle of energy that usually manifests in violent or socially unacceptable behaviour.
Generally found in children below the age of three, ASD or Autism Spectrum Disorder can be difficult to spot. It is a developmental disorder that prevents the normal learning and developmental ability and trajectory of a child, leading to anti-social behaviour, frustration and a failure to carry on 'normal' public interaction.
One has heard of conditions such as anorexia, bulimia, eating excessively, but even when we see a child suffering from any of the above, we tend not to accept there is a problem, not realising that left unaddressed, these can be fatally harmful. The relationship between a child's food and weight needs to be a healthy one, or their entire lives can be adversely impacted.
Sometimes, we are simply in denial about our children potentially suffering from depression and other forms of serious mood-related mental problems. Severe mood-swings, typically a symptom of being bipolar, are brushed under the rug for fear of societal judgment and ostracisation.
Late teens and 20s can even see the advent of schizophrenia, a crippling mental disorder where the child can entirely lose their sense of reality. This is a condition that parents need to be acutely aware of in order to spot signs and seek intervention at the very outset.
Given this background, we parents need to be on guard. The earlier we spot any of the above conditions, the better prepared we are, to help our children. There are various red-flags, symptoms, warning signs that parents ought to be aware of. Some may seem simplistic and not signal anything serious; however, that feeling of taking things lightly comes from a long history of not perceiving mental illness to be serious in itself. This attitude has to change.
It is vital to keenly observe the mood of a child. If a child is presenting mood swings or a disconnect with the environment and people for a prolonged period of over a fortnight, there could be cause for concern. If you notice that your child seems needlessly worried, excessively worried, typically characterised by increased heart-rate and laboured breathing, this needs to be delved into deeper.
If a child's grades are slipping continually and they seem unable to concentrate, focus, there might be trouble brewing. It's a sign that warrants further investigation. Rapidly losing weight, throwing-up could be sure signs of an evolving eating disorder. Sometimes, mental problems in children manifest quite differently than they do in adults. While we might feel sad and 'depressed', a child in the same situation might get cramps, headaches, and stomach bugs. Be aware of such repeated and unexplained problems.
The only way of alleviating mental health problems of our children is to shatter the stigma associated with seeking the guidance of a mental-health practitioner, and setting the little ones free from falling prey to lifelong conditions that debilitate them socially and professionally!
(Kartik Bajoria is a writer, educator and moderator.)