Help your children to be mentally well
MENTAL health is a state of well-being in which we can cope with the normal stresses of life. It affects how we think, feel, act, handle stress, relate to others and make choices. In many countries mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety, conduct disorder and post-traumatic stress are common among adults. They are also quite common in children and teenagers. Children and teenagers can develop the same mental health problems as adults, often in response to what is happening in their lives. Sadly many of the children and teenagers who experience mental health issues do not receive appropriate interventions early enough. It is important to know the signs and seek treatment. Early treatment can help address a child’s difficulties and prevent more serious problems in future.
Mental health challenges
The Covid-19 virus has brought about factors that have impacted on the mental health of not only adults but children and teenagers as well. Adults are battling with the social, economic and financial challenges brought about by the virus. Children and teenagers are on the receiving end of the same challenges.
The emotional well-being of children and teenagers is just as important as their physical well-being.They too have worries related to Covid-19. They worry about whether they will see their friends and relatives, go to school
or get sick. All this can lead to mental health disorders.
Unfortunately not many people pay attention to the children’s challenges or do so when it is too late. Besides in this Covid-19 era it is difficult for parents to calm their children’s anxieties because of the uncertainty in their own lives. The challenges facing parents themselves may interfere with their usual ability to address their children’s emotional needs.
A number of risk factors make some children and teenagers more likely to experience mental health problems than others. Traumatic events may act as risk factors and may trigger problems for those already vulnerable. Some of these factors include having a long-term physical illness, being bullied or having a parent who has had mental health problems, problems with alcohol or been in trouble with the law. Experiencing the death of a loved one, having parents who separate or divorce, physical and sexual abuse, living in poverty, being homeless, experiencing discrimination, taking on adult responsibilities and having long standing educational difficulties are all risk factors that can lead to the onset of mental health problems in children and teenagers. Changes in their lives or environment, such as moving home or school or the birth of a new brother or sister, can often act as triggers for some young people.
Some children starting at a new school may feel excited about making new friends, while others may feel anxious about entering a new environment.
Children and teenagers may develop the same mental health conditions as adults but their symptoms may be different. Warning signs include persistent sadness that lasts for two or more weeks, withdrawing from or avoiding social interaction, hurting oneself or talking about hurting oneself, talking about death or suicide, outbursts or extreme irritability and drastic changes in mood, behaviour or personality.
Changes in eating habits, loss of weight, difficulty sleeping, frequent headaches or stomach aches, difficulty concentrating, changes in academic performance and avoiding or missing school are all warning signs of possible mental health problems.
How to help
If you have a warm, open relationship with your children and teenagers, they will usually feel able to tell you if they are troubled. One of the most important ways parents can help is to listen to them and take their feelings
seriously. They may want a hug, need help in changing something or they may want practical help.
Children’s and teenagers’ negative feelings usually pass. However it is a good idea to seek help if your child is distressed for a long time, has negative feelings that interfere with everyday living or disrupt family life or if he or she repeatedly behaves in ways you would not expect at his or he age.
If your child is having problems at school, a teacher, school nurse or school counsellor may be able to help. If not, visit your doctor, who may be able to refer your child for further help.
Talking it through
Assessments and treatments for children and teenagers with mental health problems generally involve talking and trying to understand the problem in order to work out the best way to tackle it. With children this may be done
through play. The action that professionals recommend often involves the rest of the family as well.
Most research into medications for mental health problems has focused on adults rather than children. Children and teenagers need to be assessed by a specialist before they are prescribed any drugs. There is a lot of evidence
that talking therapies can be effective for children and teenagers but drugs may also help in some cases.
The family can play a major role in promoting good mental health. You can begin by helping children and teenagers be in good physical health. Eating a balanced diet and regular exercise helps keep them well. Help them be a part of a family that gets along well most of the time. Spending too much time with the same people in an enclosed space can take its toll on anyone but especially if you are not getting along.The effects of a family that does
not get along well linger longer in children than in adults. You may not immediately see or notice the effects but they may be damaging in the long run. Give the children and teenagers the time and freedom to play indoors and outdoors. While the lock down restricts movement outside the home, young and old still need to spend some time in the fresh air. Children are generally used to playing outside both at home and at school and should be encouraged to spend time outdoors even if it is within the confines of their garden or yard.
Many children and teenagers are having online lessons where they spend most of their day indoors. At the end of the day they need some fresh air. Take a walk with them outside. The fresh air will do everyone some good.
Most importantly make time for your children and encourage them to talk to you about their feelings and what is going on in their lives. Do not apply so much pressure on them to succeed at school that they feel overwhelmed
and unable to cope.
The information in this article is provided as a public service by the Cimas iGo Wellness programme, which is designed to promote good health. It is provided for general information only and should not be construed as medical advice. Readers should consult their doctor or clinic on any matter related to their health or the treatment of any health problem. — [email protected] or WhatsApp 0772 161 829 or phone 024-2773 0663.
Author, historian & columnist