Why children hide their mental health struggle; a psychiatrist explains
Dr Samir Parikh, an eminent psychiatrist explains why a majority of children suffering from mental health issues do not reach out for help or receive it.
Children's Mental Health Awareness Day: Having failed his board exam, Ayush (name changed), aged 14, suddenly stopped being himself and started avoiding his parents and others in the family. Handling failure is not easy for anyone but for the teenaged Ayush it was sort of end of life. Each passing day, his personality disorder only worsened. But one day he gathered courage to meet Dr Shukla, a renowned psychologist who lived in the neighbourhood and that changed his life. Not all children can cope up with this. Many of them sweep their mental health struggles under the carpet fearing adverse reactions from their parents or teachers or not having enough vocabulary to explain what's happening with them. (Also read: Foods to boost your child's mental health amid pandemic)
Children's Mental Health Awareness Day is observed every year on May 7 to raise awareness about the importance of children's mental health.
Dr Samir Parikh, Director, Mental Health and Behavioural Sciences, Fortis Healthcare in an interview with HT Digital says almost 10% of all children and adolescents, according to WHO, experience a mental health disorder, yet a majority of them do not reach out for help or receive it. He says these struggles with mental health in the early years impact children’s psychosocial development, with effects on their academics, relationships, self-esteem and lifestyle, and the difficulties may often permeate into adulthood as well.
Dr Parikh explains that there are many reasons that children may not discuss their mental health issues with others which includes fear of being misunderstood, judged or mocked. Dr Parikh says kids may also not have the awareness or the emotional vocabulary to be able to fully express what they are experiencing. He says that many a time, academic difficulties, conflicts with authority or even physical health problems may have an underlying mental health basis to them, which often remain undiagnosed and untreated.
In families at times, children do not get an environment where they feel free to express themselves, so they may seek information online or support anonymously.
"As adults, it’s important that we create an environment of openness and understanding with children. Creating a safe space where children are free to express themselves is key. Art and play can also be helpful tools for children to express themselves in a less threatening manner," says Dr Parikh.
Dr Samir Parikh says that rather than focusing only on a child’s performance, it’s imperative to pay close attention to their emotional well-being as well.
"Encouraging social and emotional development by way of life skills education is the need of the hour. At the same time, mental health literacy needs to be introduced into classrooms from an early age. To reduce the stigma and fear of judgment, we need to be mindful of the vocabulary we use. Children need to be taught to understand mental health the same way as physical health. Most of all, we must inculcate an openness towards help seeking, where asking for help is seen as a sign of strength," says the renowned psychiatrist.