By Nico Strydom
Approximately one out of every seven children has a treatable mental-health condition, but most will carry the burden into adulthood because of South Africa’s chronic shortage of specialists and facilities to support their unique needs.
This according to Dr Alicia Porter, a psychiatrist and a council member of the South African Society of Psychiatrists (SASOP). Children and adolescents have not been spared the mental-health impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, with symptoms of anxiety and depression estimated at having doubled among under-18s worldwide.
“Mental-health workers expect the disruption of school and family routines, the fear of being infected or losing loved ones, isolation and lack of social contact that came with the pandemic to have a long-term negative impact on the mental health of children and continue into adulthood.
“Mental-health conditions are the main cause of illness and disability among children and teenagers, with 50−80% of adult mental-health disorders starting during childhood, which has an impact on physical and mental health, increases the risk of drug abuse and limits opportunities for education and work.”
In the meantime a lack of understanding and acceptance of mental health lead to families who do look for help often being stigmatised within their extended families, communities and healthcare system, with psychiatric problems seen as a “child who is naughty” or “just passing through a phase” and that it is the result of poor parenting.
Mental disorders in children are linked to changes in the way in which they usually learn, act or handle emotions. Many children often experience fears and worries or display disruptive behaviour that can interfere with their daily functioning.
Mental disorders in children include, inter alia, anxiety disorders, hyperactivity disorder, autism-spectrum disorder, eating disorders, depression and other mood disorders and posttraumatic stress disorder.
Warning signs that a child could be mentally disturbed, include, inter alia, sadness for long periods of time, withdrawal, tantrums, drastic changes in behaviour, changes in eating habits, sleeping problems, and regular headaches or stomachcache.
If you are worried about your child’s mental health, you can consult a healthcare provider and tell them about the behaviour that worries you. You can also talk to your child’s teacher, friends and other family members to find out whether they have noticed changes in your child’s behaviour.
Should your child have to be treated for a mental-health disorder, you can help by learning more about the illness, and learning stress-handling techniques to help you to stay calm, to look for ways to relax and have fun with your child and to make sure that you give the necessary support.
Mayo Clinic: https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/childrens-health/in-depth/mental-illness-in-children/art-20046577