Take note of our children's mental health

Take note of our childrens mental health
Family discord, peer pressure, inability to socialise or pushy parents can negatively impact the psychology of a child.

Dubai - Childhood depression is taking a big toll with studies indicating the peak age globally at 14


Kelly Clarke

Published: Thu 5 May 2016, 5:06 PM

Last updated: Thu 5 May 2016, 6:45 PM

Unlike many parents here, for Lebanese mother of one, Joelle Rached, the stigma of having a child in therapy did not affect her. Having a young child struggle with his parents divorce did.

"I am a person who is open to therapy and who acknowledges that every one of us might need help at that level in any given period of our lives."

It was her separation from her husband which instigated a number of odd behaviours in her five-year-old child, Karim.

"He began to exhibit a number of nervous traits including eye twitching and lip biting, so I turned to a psychiatrist for help."

Now, after a year and a half in therapy, six-year-old Karim's behaviour has seen a 180 degree turnaround.

"From a scared, angry, stressed-out boy, he became confident, calm, accepting and smiling again. Therapy helped him communicate, which is key in facing any problem in life. He used to keep it all in but now he comes and talks about anything that bothers him," she said.

A big issue

Poor mental health can affect anyone, at any time. From divorce to family pressure, or a simple inability to socialise, each one of these factors can negatively impact a person's psychology.

But how do we deal with a situation when that 'victim' is our child?

Most people equate depression with adults, but that is just not the case, Sara Powell, Art Psychotherapist at Art Therapy International Centre (Atic) Dubai, told Khaleej Times.

Myths and Facts:
> Mental illness is caused by a personal weakness
> People with a mental illness never get better
> People with a mental illness can "pull themselves out of it"
> People with a mental illness are violent
> Mental illness is not a character flaw. It is caused by genetic, biological, social and environmental factors
> With appropriate treatment and support, most people do recover and lead healthy, productive and satisfying lives
> Mental illness is not caused by personal weakness and is not "cured" by personal strength
> People with mental illness are no more violent or dangerous than the rest of the population, however they are more likely to self harm

"I'm seeing more and more children with more adult-related problems," she said.

And the reason for this increase is the dawn of the information age.

"The internet has a lot to answer for. Children are so much more exposed to news nowadays on social media. They are more connected to what is going on in the world and that impacts them."

In 2014, the World Health Organisation published a report spotlighting 'Health For the World's Adolescents'.

And the findings were alarming.

It revealed that depression is the predominant cause of illness and disability for both boys and girls aged 10 to 19 years.

Note the age group. It falls smack bang in the middle of a child's most vulnerable time in life - puberty.

During this time, children change emotionally as well as physically, which makes them more susceptible to childhood depression.

But there are many factors that contribute to a child's decrease in mental health.

Academics versus pushy parent

At one time or another in our lives, we've all come into contact with a pushy parent.

Though all parents want the best in life for their child, to what extent does this misplaced ambition have on the star of the show - the child?

"We witness many school-going children trying to cope with academic pressures. Many are trying to manage the external pressures or expectations of either themselves or their parents," Powell said.

Spot the symptoms:
In young children:
> Withdrawing socially
> Bedwetting
> Sleeping a lot
> Change in behaviour
> Tearful
* In teenagers:
> Withdrawing socially
> Temperament change
> Low self-esteem
> School avoidance
> Self harming - eating habits, physical harming
But the cost of that pressure can impact negatively on the student.

"Thoughts of suicide can often be linked to this particular sub-set of students."

In the UAE in particular, she said entrance tests to schools play a big role in this symptom of childhood depression.

But pushy parents are certainly not the only factor impacting a child's mental health.

What we're seeing in the UAE
Childhood depression is taking a big toll on our adolescents, with some studies indicating the peak age of depression globally at 14.

For Powell, her patient base is vast.

"This is such a prevalent issue across all communities. We see children from as young as three-years-old up to teenage years."

With a multicultural population in the UAE, she said "bullying, difficulty transitioning in a new country, and family breakdowns" are the most common cases she deals with.

But looking at the Asian community in particular, "academic pressure" plays a huge part when it comes to the onset of depression for secondary school students.

In 2013 a study by Dubai Health Authority (DHA) revealed that about one in five teenage students in Dubai showed symptoms of depression.

As many as 1,289 students between the ages of 14 and 18 were surveyed, with nearly 17.5 per cent diagnosed with advanced symptoms.

Though the conversation around childhood depression is opening up here, Powell said there is still a stigma.

"Parents tend to focus only on physical changes in their children when it comes to their well-being, but we need to encourage a trend of looking at the deeper, psychosomatic factors."

And only then can a child be properly treated, she said.

After putting her child into therapy, Rachel admits she felt a lot of guilt.

She said it was her failed marriage which resulted in him needing help, but the intervention was exactly what he needed.

"Kids that age should only worry about having a happy childhood, and not deal with the grown up issues."

For parents battling with the inner demon of having a child in therapy, she has one message.

"I would recommend parents put it as a top priority if it is needed. There's no room for errors here, and nothing could hurt a parent more than having to say at a later stage 'I wish I had done it'.

A medicated child

Though Powell specialises in art therapy, she does not discount the use of medication in a small number of cases.

"Medication has a place, but obviously as a child develops, their brain is still developing. Children should be made aware of what is going on with them emotionally, that's where therapy steps in."

She said alternative therapies have proven to be "very successful" among most children, but in some cases a psychiatrist will have to resort to prescribing medication.

"Forget the stigma, and make the right steps to promote, protect or restore your child's mental health."
A medical warning
Earlier this year the British Medical Journal concluded children and teenagers using one of five commonly used drugs to treat depression have double the risk of suicide and aggressive behaviour.
The drugs were: duloxetine, fluoxetine, paroxetine, sertraline or venlafaxine.
Spot the symptoms:
In young children:
> Withdrawing socially
> Bedwetting
> Sleeping a lot
> Change in behaviour
> Tearful
In teenagers:
> Withdrawing socially
> Temperament change
> Low self-esteem
> School avoidance
> Self harming - eating habits, physical harming


Joelle and her son Karim
Joelle and her son Karim
The internet has a lot to answer for says Sara Powell, Art Psychotherapist
The internet has a lot to answer for says Sara Powell, Art Psychotherapist

More news from UAE