Career & Education

Children's mental health needs care too

Karla Hylton

Sunday, July 08, 2018

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We take our children to the doctor for vaccinations, check-ups, colds, rashes and all manner of physical ailments. And it is relatively easy to identify their's physical needs for such things as food, clothing and shelter. Yet, as parents, we do not often think about our children's mental health, as it is not usually obvious.

But their emotional health is just as important as their physical health. Mental health, like physical health, is something we all have and just like physical health, it can range from good to poor and can also change over time. The World Health Organization says “there is no health without mental health”.

Having good mental health does not mean that our children are happy all the time. It is normal for them to have feelings of sadness, anger, worry, anxiety etc. What is essential, however, is that they have good coping skills which are age appropriate to manage these feelings and to deal with difficulties.

Good mental health allows children to think clearly, increase focus, develop socially, and facilitates them succeeding both academically and otherwise. Parents, teachers and other caregivers play an important role in children developing good mental health. Among the needs we can fill toward that end include:

• Unconditional love

• Opportunity to play with other kids

• Nurturing

• Support in their endeavours

• Safe and secure environment

• Appropriate discipline and guidance.

Common Mental Health Problems in Kids (taken from www.mentalhealth.org.uk)

Depression affects more children and young people today than in the last few decades, but it is still more common in adults. Teenagers are more likely to experience depression than young children.

Self-harm is a very common problem among young people. Some people find it helps them manage intense emotional pain if they harm themselves, through cutting or burning, for example. They may not wish to take their own life.

Generalised anxiety disorder can cause young people to become extremely worried. Very young children or children starting or changing school may have separation anxiety.

Post-traumatic stress disorder can follow physical or sexual abuse, witnessing something extremely frightening of traumatising, being the victim of violence or severe bullying, or surviving a disaster.

Children who are consistently overactive ('hyperactive'), behave impulsively, and have difficulty paying attention may have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Many more boys than girls are affected, but the cause of ADHD aren't yet fully understood.

Eating disorders usually start in the teenage years and are more common in girls than boys. The number of young people who develop an eating disorder is small, but eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa can have serious consequences for their physical health and development.

Recognising Mental Health Problems in Children

Parents, family members and educators play an important role in identifying mental health issues in kids. Diagnosis in young children can be particularly difficult since young kids have difficulty expressing their feelings. However, here are some warning signs:

1. Decline in academic performance

2. Excessive worrying or anxiety

3. Refusal to go to school

4. Aggressive behaviour

5. Depression or sadness

6. Frequent nightmares

7. Sleeping or eating problems

8. Hyperactivity

9. Persistent disobedience

10. Frequent negative self-talk

11. Wanting to be alone often

12. Spending a lot of time daydreaming

13. Nervous habits such as nail biting, hair twisting or thumb sucking

14. Sudden outbursts of tears over small incidents

15. Self-destructive behaviour such as head banging or self-mutilation.

Helping your Child Cope with mental illness

Children can develop all of the same mental health conditions adults may experience, with the only difference being they may express them differently. If your child has been diagnosed by a professional with a mental health condition, it is natural for you to feel helpless and perhaps frustrated. But try to explore ways of relaxing and having fun with your child. Be positive, and be grateful that you have discovered a problem and therefore will either be able to cure or treat the condition.

Inform your child's teachers and the guidance counsellor so that they become aware of the situation and can offer assistance. Most importantly, follow your doctor's instructions.

Dr Karla Hylton is the author of Yes! You Can Help Your Child Achieve Academic Success and Complete Chemistry for Caribbean High Schools . She operates Bio & Chem Tutoring, which specialises in secondary level biology and chemistry. Reach her at (876) 564-1347, biochemtutor100@gmail.com or khylton.com .

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