I’ve been gazing on the global concern of children and adolescent mental health. It’s introspection really, as I look with refined hindsight into my onset, to understand what could have precipitated my circumstances. It’s concerning too, since there’s an increasing number of parents asking me for direction to psychiatric interventions for adolescents.
It’s intuitiveness and not anything precise that lead me here. But, as I engage the scientific, my desire for mediation for children and adolescents grows. That, more so, because there’s evidence that preventive care and early-life interventions can stymie onset of mental illness.
The World Health Organization (WHO) gives this among ten top mental health facts:
“Worldwide ten to 20 per cent of children and adolescents experience mental disorders. Half of all mental illnesses begin by age 14, and three-quarters by mid-20s. Neuropsychiatric conditions (eg, cognitive deficits, mood disorders, uncontrolled anger, attention deficits, migraine headaches, etc) are the leading cause of disability in young people (globally).
“If untreated, these conditions severely influence children’s development, their educational attainments and their potential to live fulfilling and productive lives.” http://www.who.int/mental_health/maternal-child/child_adolescent/en/
“Children with mental disorders face major challenges with stigma, isolation, and discrimination, as well as lack of access to healthcare and education facilities, in violation of their fundamental human rights,” says the WHO.
So, let’s start engaging with what we know or accept as the causes of mental illness.
Although the exact cause of most mental illnesses is not known, we know biological, psychological, and environmental factors predicate many of these conditions.
On biological determinants, webmd.com says, “Some mental illnesses have been linked to abnormal functioning of nerve cell circuits or pathways that connect particular brain regions. Nerve cells within these brain circuits communicate through chemicals called neurotransmitters. Tweaking these chemicals—through medicines, psychotherapy, or other medical procedures—can help brain circuits run more efficiently.”
The site explains the following:
• Genetics (heredity): Mental illnesses sometimes run in families, suggesting that people who have a family member with a mental illness may be more likely to develop one themselves. Susceptibility is passed on in families through genes.
• Infections: Certain infections have been linked to brain damage and the development of mental illness or the worsening of its symptoms. For example, the Streptococcus bacteria has been linked to obsessive-compulsive disorder and other mental illnesses in children.
• Others are brain defects or injury, prenatal damage, and substance abuse. Factors such as poor nutrition and exposure to toxins, such as lead, are included.
There is much available research showing that among psychological factors impacting on mental health are childhood traumas and adversities, including sexual abuse, emotional abuse, neglect, and early loss of parents.
On the environmental factors contributing to mental Illness, the stressors include, “death or divorce, a dysfunctional family life, feelings of inadequacy, low self-esteem, anxiety, anger, or loneliness, changing jobs or schools, social or cultural expectations (eg, a society that associates beauty with thinness can be a factor in the development of eating disorders) and substance abuse by the person or the person's parents.”
One quarter of the world’s population, (about 1.5 billion people) lives with or are experiencing a mental illness or disorder (WHO). One half of all mental illness begins by age 14, and 75 per cent begins by age 24, agrees the American Psychiatric Association (APA), in making a case for greater focus on children’s public mental health as a national priority.
Even with this prevalence there is no overwhelming global initiative (far less local resourcefulness) to reflect these statistics. Child mental health is not yet a priority. In the meantime, at the individual levels many parents are struggling to cope.
Even with mental health issues presenting, I had no idea what I should have been doing as a parent raising a child. Worse yet, I had no help. There was no one who looked at us and said, “I want to help because obviously you cannot do this.”
Even if they thought I was failing at parenting, or that my child could be affected by my anger and fits of rage, it just may have been voiced in gossip. We’re not then–or now–a community/society sufficiently educated, concerned, or confident to intervene.
In my case, the people close to me knew of my mental illness, including his father, but all (possibly) felt better to say I am/was a terrible parent, a horrible human being.
I suspect it’s the same today for most parents who live with a mental disorder. But worse yet must be the lot of parents who “have no reason for concern” for issues of mental illness to be faced with these disorders in their children. The anguish is overwhelming; the stigma alone could kill.
To be continued
• Caroline C Ravello is a strategic communications and media practitioner with over 30 years of proficiency. She holds an MA in Mass Communications and is pursuing the MSc Public Health from the UWI. She has been living/thriving with mental health issues for over 35 years. Write to: firstname.lastname@example.org