Mental Health is a psychological state of an individual who is functioning at a satisfactory level of emotional and behavioral adjustment or predominantly happens to be an absence of mental illness. According to World Health Organization (WHO), mental health includes “subjective well being, perceived self efficacy, autonomy, competence, inter-generational dependence and self actualization of one’s intellect and emotional potential, among others”.
It is often seen that children and teenagers suffer a lot from poor mental heath due to various reasons. With today’s time and age the problems are increasing rapidly and as stated by World Health Organisation ‘Worldwide 10-20 % of children and adolescents experience mental disorders’. Some of the common causes of mental health problems in children and teenagers are:
· Having parents who are divorced or separated.
· Having a Long-Term physical illness.
· Experiencing the death of a close one.
· Sibling rivalry.
· Separation anxiety when small children are separated from their caregivers due to various reasons like; divorce, death or illness or even when introduced to a new environment like play school.
· Generation gap with parents.
· Toxic stress caused by irrelevant expectations of overly good performances.
· Physical assault like punishment or domestic violence
· Poor Nutrition or malnutrition.
· Genetic vulnerability.
· Hormonal changes.
· Relationship breakdown.
· Social isolation
· Traumatic experience such as living in a war zone or facing a dreadful accident can increase the risk of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
· Some personality traits such as Low Self-esteem or Perfectionism can increase the risk of depression and anxiety.
How can we recognise that a child or a teenager is suffering from poor mental health
Depression is generally characterized by persistent low moods and loss of interest in activities causing impairment in daily lives. Depressed individuals do not find pleasure in any activities and they tend to suffer in the process, get detached from their friends and family and become reclusive. Depression has been affecting more children today than in the last few decades. Teenagers and adolescents are more likely to be the target of this mental illness.
Ø SELF HARM & OPPOSTIONAL DEFIANT DISORDER/CONDUCT DISORDER
Self Harm is a very common problem among young people. Some people get reinforced as it helps them to manage intense emotional pain if they harm themselves, through cutting or burning. For example, having a bad relationship with their partners or family issues can be the risk factors in enhancing the individual to take such step. Young children today can also face the problem of harming others, being aggressive or irresponsible and violating the societal rules, spitting or making bad comments on others which are psychological termed as the symptoms of Oppositional Defiant Disorder or Conduct Disorder. Such children take certain steps as it helps them to control or deal with their inner conflicts that they happen to be suppressed for a long period and then expressing it in a violent way.
Ø GENERALIZED ANXIETY DISORDER (GAD)
Generalized Anxiety Disorder can cause children and teenagers to become extremely worried, panic or be nervous when it comes to dealing with a particular stressful situation. Children may be a victim of Separation Anxiety when they are separated from their close ones. Such anxiety may affect them in their developmental stages. They tend to remain aloof, or may be emotionally blunt, or they may loss interest in activities or making friends or even communicating with people.
A healthy upbringing during the early childhood years lead a healthy life
The early childhood years are very important in shaping the character, personality and overall development of a child. During these years, if a child undergoes stress, anxiety or depression due to various factors at home or outside, then there is a huge negative impact on the child’s mind. In order to grow up to be a well-rounded individual, it is very important that children should be exposed to a positive environment. Even if they are born with some kind of minor disability or disorder,yet have a supportive family or surroundings, they would be able to cope with such disorders easily. On the other hand, if a child, who is normal, is exposed to a large amount of toxic stress or subject to bullying, body-shaming or the likes, the child may get into depression, which may lead to self-harm etc. An excessive amount of stress or anxiety can contribute to physical problems like binge eating and puking, low energy levels, insomnia, low concentration, irritation, violent behavior, poor health leading to poor growth, reclusive behaviour.
As an Early Childhood Educationist, I believe that every child should be placed in an environment which is conducive to building up of self confidence, self esteem, positive feeling towards others, empathy et.al. The development of emotional intelligence in children is very important for enabling them to cope up with stress or stressful situations, managing emotions, control of anger; etc., which are very common for them when they grow from one stage to the other. If a child is emotionally intelligent, he or she will be able to transient from one stage to the other easily, as they are more flexible and will look for the positives, even in the negative life situations.
It is, therefore, important for the children and teenagers to have strong relationships with their family and friends and they should be encouraged to share their inner conflicts so that the nature and the cause can be diagnosed and treated effectively.
Stake Holders: which includes parents, educators, relatives etc have a huge role to play in the lives of these little children who look at them for support, comfort and guidance. They should create a sense of belongingness, empathy, develop their potential and ensure a positive and safe environment. Mistakes and defeats should be expected and accepted. Additionally, encouraging words from adults is also important for helping children develop self confidence, high self esteem, and a healthy emotional outlook on life. Therefore, good mental health will allow the children to think clearly, develop socially and learn new skills and grow up to be a healthy individual.
Vasavi Acharya Bora
Early Childhood Educationist, Edupreneur, M.D. Inner I Foundation Pvt. Ltd. Faculty TISS Guwahati, Director DNA Foundation for Children and Women Welfare, Author, Awardee.