Over the past few months, many people have watched with shock and disbelief as many young children committed suicide and crimes.
This has left many wondering what really is wrong with today’s children as they seem to be unstable compared to previous generations.
But the problem is not today’s children rather it is what could be causing the instability. For most parents they would shudder at the mere thought of their child battling a physical illness let alone a mental sickness such as depression or schizophrenia. But sadly for many parents, this is a reality they confront every day.
The fact that many children are battling psychological ill health is an emerging national issue that has been discussed in great depth. But what exactly is mental illness and what are the signs to look out for in our children? The term mental ill health is a broad term used to describe mental illness and mental health problems.
A mental illness is a disorder that significantly interferes with an individual’s cognitive, emotional and social abilities.
The mental illness can be caused by physical conditions such as bacterial or viral infection of the brain, physical accidents or assault to the head according to Prof David Musymi Ndetei in his book Your A-Z on Mental Health.
Others do not have a discernible physical effect on the brain but affect by changing chemicals in the brain leading to what is called functional mental disorders.
It is mostly the functional mental disorders that are commonly expressed by seemingly ordinary people.
Just as diabetes is a disorder of the pancreas, so is mental disorder an illness of the mind that can affect the thoughts, feelings, and behaviours of a person, preventing him or her from coping with the ordinary demands of life.
It is up to the adult in the child’s life to identify whether the child has a mental health concern or not. Unfortunately, most adults do not know the signs to look out for.
Children can develop the same mental problems as adults it is only that they express them differently as they have not yet developed the vocabulary to describe what they feel.
Some of the mental disorders are: mood disorders such as bi-polar disorder and depression, schizophrenia, autism spectrum disorder (ASD), eating disorders-such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder which are life threatening conditions if left untreated and anxiety disorders such as obsessive compulsion disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and generalised anxiety disorder.
What are the red flags to watch out for:
- Physical symptoms: your child may complain of headaches, or stomach aches instead of anxiety or sadness.
- Unexplained weight loss due to changes in eating habits or lack of appetite.
- Difficulty in concentrating, keeping still or focusing.
- Self harm like deliberately cutting, biting, burning oneself, or suicidal thoughts.
- Drastic behaviour changes or personality or dangerous or out of control behaviour.
- Expressing intense feelings like overwhelming fear for no reason to the point of affecting normal daily activities.
- Substance abuse to try and cope with their feelings.
- Hearing or seeing things others cannot.
- Withdrawal and sadness for more than two weeks with severe mood swings.
- Withdrawal from social circles
- Sleeping a lot more than usual and being lethargic and poor memory.
Where to seek help for your child
If you are concerned about your child’s mental health it is important to seek help from qualified mental health experts such as counsellors, psychiatrists or psychologists in what is called psychotherapy and counselling.
This is where a child, with the help of a qualified practitioner, learns about his or her condition and how to respond to the changes and challenges that come with living with a mental disorder.
It is important for those people living with children experiencing mental disorders to offer them support for them to be able to accept their condition and live productive lives.
By so doing the larger society can learn to normalise mental health disorders as part of the health challenges that affect the society, thereby reducing the stigma associated with suffering from a mental disorder.
Just like adults, children are vulnerable to mental illnesses. The events unfolding in the nation are a pointer that our children are troubled by issues therefore an imagined and should therefore be examined and right solutions offered. It is possible to live positively with a mental disorder.
Amani Counsellors Milly Njuguna, Christine Mutingu and Faith Gichanga Osirowork at the Amani Counselling and Training Institute which strives to promote mental health in the society through clinical services, training and tailor-made workshops and seminars. Do you have a question for Amani Counsellors? Please email: [email protected]