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Children and mental illness: 11 things to keep in mind

Considering that one in five children are affected by mental health problems, there’s an urgent need for early identification of those who are impacted by it

education Updated: Nov 13, 2017 13:24 IST
Teachers and parents should understand that mental health illness can happen to anyone - not just a particular type or class of people. It does not necessarily require the presence of challenging circumstances in a child’s life to be precipitated.
Teachers and parents should understand that mental health illness can happen to anyone - not just a particular type or class of people. It does not necessarily require the presence of challenging circumstances in a child’s life to be precipitated.(Getty Images/iStockphoto)

WHO statistics place the prevalence of mental health problems in children and adolescents at 20%. Considering that one in five children are affected by mental health problems, there’s an urgent need for early identification of those who are impacted by it.

If an illness persists for a longer duration it becomes difficult to treat and requires intervention – in the form of medications or psychotherapy – for a longer period of time. The earlier we identify the problem, the greater the chances of its resolution at an early stage. Critical to this end are the following factors:

1. Recognition of the fact that mental health illnesses can occur in children and adolescents as well. They are not just illnesses impacting adults.

2. Understanding that mental health illness can happen to anyone - not just a particular type or class of people. It does not necessarily require the presence of challenging circumstances in a child’s life to be precipitated.

3.There are many ailments that fall within the rubric of mental health illnesses. Equipping yourself with the knowledge and understanding of mental health problems is imperative to be able to decipher whether the problematic behaviour of a child is on account of mental health illness or not.

4.Panicking in a situation where there is possibility of a child being mentally ill only worsens the situation. It is important that you stay calm and take a pragmatic approach to the problem.

5. It is essential to develop a way of working with the problem and know what you can do as the first few steps to help a child if he or she has a mental health problem.

6. Reaching out to an expert can be an important step as he or she can help determine the next steps in eliminating or treating the illness that exists.

What schools can do

Within the school system too certain things need to be in place, which include the following:

7.Ensure that both teaching and non-teaching staff are aware of a student’s mental health related problems.

8.Take a proactive approach in educating students and parents about mental health problems and how they manifest.

9.Discuss ways in which particular mental health problems can be handled within the school and in collaboration with parents.

10.Find ways to facilitate emotional expression and sharing of problems and experiences within the classroom.

11.Create redressal systems within the school which are clearly defined so students know exactly what to do in case they face a problem.

The author is director at department of mental health and behavioral sciences at Fortis Healthcare and will soon launch a book he has co-authored with Kamna Chibbler, titled Let Him Not Sink: First Steps to Mental Health, A Manual for Adults who Work Closely with Children and Adolescents