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Indian Council of Medical Research reported that 12 per cent children in the age group of 4 to 16 suffer from psychiatric disorders in India. Indian Journal of Medical Research released a report in 2014 that nearly 10 to 30 per cent of young people suffer from health impacting behaviours and conditions that need urgent attention.
Junk food diets, mounting exam pressure, nagging peer pressure, easy availability of drugs, body image issues projected by media and family breakdowns are responsible for mental health problems wrecking prospects of the young generation. A quarter of a million children are taking help for mental health issues in the UK and the number is no less alarming in India.
A lot of parents today analyse and over analyse their parenting techniques because they understand that it is important to foster a healthy environment for kids; an environment that is both supportive and nurturing. Dr Samir Parikh, Head, Mental Health and Behavioral Sciences, Fortis Healthcare explains, “Due to information explosion, kids become vulnerable in absence of support and direction. This makes the role of parents all the more important and critical.”
COMMON PARENTING MISTAKES
Neerja Birla, founder and chairperson of Mpower for mental health says, “As parents, it is important to have an open, communicative relationship with your child, so that you can have conversations about world matters, issues, beliefs, and impart the right knowledge providing reason, thereby modelling the appropriate way of approaching information, and correcting any false beliefs and information they may come across.”
Neerja Birla shares some common mistakes:
Treat the child as an individual in their own right. Listen to and value their thoughts, emotions, actions and encourage their inherent curiosity. This basic first step can go a long way in helping children open up and share their thoughts.
Focus on building emotional intelligence. Various studies have shown that long-term success and fulfillment have its roots in our ability to regulate our emotions. Help your child name their feelings from a young age. Encourage them to build an emotional vocabulary by labeling their feelings.
Acknowledge their emotional state. If your child is upset, don’t say “Stop crying.” Mirroring your child’s feelings lets them know that it is OK to feel every emotion, and you are also encouraging them to share their feelings with you. If parents show strong disapproval of “negative emotions”, children will learn wrong ways of emotion regulation. They may repress such emotions, which may then emerge subconsciously in the child’s behavior.
Spend quality time with your children. Dedicate some time everyday only to your child, and engage with them in activities that you both enjoy. Convey to them that they are important and valued. This will go a long way in enhancing your child’s self-esteem.
Be mindful of their emotional and mental needs. As parents, we are constantly aware of our child’s physical needs, but it is equally important to be mindful of their emotional and mental health needs. Just as we take our child to a doctor if they have a fever, it is also important to take steps towards their emotional and mental well-being. With children, the earlier, the better. If you notice concerning signs and symptoms, don’t hesitate to visit a professional or bring it up with your paediatrician. A young child’s brain is still developing, neural pathways are forming at a rapid rate, the brain is malleable and therefore intervention is the most effective at a young age (particularly up to age 3). However, this also does not mean that once the child crosses that particular age, the window of opportunity for intervention is lost. Seeking help is key!
“At MPower, an organization set up to promote mental wellbeing, we are adopting a holistic approach from service provision to awareness building and also the creation of particular outreach programs for schools, colleges and corporate,” she adds.
WARNING SUICIDAL SIGNS
It is alarming that India has some of the world's highest instances of suicides amongst youth. Dr Shilpa Aggarwal, Child & Adolescent Psychiatrist, MBBS, DPM, DNB (gold medal), FRANZCP (Aus), Head of Psychiatry at MPower Center says, “The commonest warning signs include any changes in behaviour such as a change in socialisation pattern (becoming reclusive), losing interest in previously enjoyable activities, significant decline in performance (academic or any other activity) and change in communication pattern. The other pointers could be having conversations with friends about suicide and death, internet searches related to methods of suicide, and any posts on social media such as Facebook related to expression of suicidal ideas. Any of the above mentioned red flags warrant further investigation and an evaluation by a mental health professional.”
Children are virtually vulnerable to unsafe environment, upbringing or anything, they need utmost care, supervision and our love.
THE FURY OF IGNORED MENTAL ILLNESS
Any mental illness during childhood when left untreated comes with a cost. To think that the mental illness will disappear on its own accord is not a correct assumption to make. Most often, the illness interferes with the normal developmental trajectory of the child, allows other accompanying conditions to come into picture and over a period of time becomes more difficult to treat. “For example, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder not adequately treated during childhood can impair the academic functioning of the child, impact upon the self-esteem, can present with add on anxiety disorders during adolescence and at times, will drive the adolescent towards substance abuse. Similarly, childhood depression if left untreated can become more severe and difficult to treat in due course. In the worst case scenario and when coupled with adverse psychosocial factors, can result in a disastrous outcome such as suicide,” adds Dr Shilpa.
Mental health is as important as physical health and should be taken seriously. Good mental health is of utmost importance for any person to function effectively and to reach their maximum potential. Dr Shilpa opines, “The effects of poor mental health of a person are not restricted to the individual alone but spills over to the people close to them. As a result, the suffering is not restricted to the individual. It is time that we as a society recognise the importance of mental health and adequate initiatives are put in place to address this major public health challenge.”