Why We Need To Prioritize Mental Health In Children And Adolescents

by Business Watch Team
Mental Health

The ever-evolving changes that occur in childhood and adolescence can be trying for anyone. Every person uniquely experiences the world from physical, mental, and emotional perspectives. However, while there is a lot of emphasis on children’s and adolescents’ physical growth and development, there isn’t enough attention paid to their mental health, which is an important aspect of this process.

To begin, millions of children face mental health challenges daily. The World Health Organization estimates that one in seven children and adolescents worldwide have a mental health disorder. Closer to home, a study in Kenya discovered that 37.7% of school-age children had mental health problems. This highlights the critical need to address mental health issues in children.

The term mental health refers to emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It is about how children feel, think, and act. Furthermore, mental health has a significant impact on how children handle stress, interact with others, and make decisions. Prioritizing mental health in childhood and adolescent development is thus critical.

A child’s early years are spent developing basic emotional and social skills that will serve them well into adulthood. Caregivers who allow children to form secure attachments provide them with security and stability, allowing them to learn to interact with and trust others and increase their self-esteem. Feeling loved, supported, and valued allows children to develop a positive self-image, which is essential as they navigate the complexities of growing up. Through intentional interaction with adults around them and their environments, they learn to control their emotions and actions when confronted with academic pressures, social anxieties, and even professional challenges later in life. Neglecting a child’s mental health needs during their formative years, on the other hand, can result in long-term emotional and psychological problems such as anxiety, depression, and difficulty interacting with others.

Even if a child has a solid foundation at home, their surroundings have a significant impact on their mental health. Parents, guardians, and communities around children must create environments that encourage open communication, provide consistent support, and set clear boundaries. An environment that allows children to express their emotions without fear of being judged teaches them to articulate their feelings. It also accords them the opportunity to develop coping mechanisms for stress and adversity. The process is supported when caregivers teach them through instruction and illustration.

Anecdotally, there is a significant number of children and adolescents that are expected to excel in school and quite often, this occurs at the cost of extracurricular activities. From the perspective of modern parents and schools, heavy workloads in school position their children better to join tertiary institutions which are perceived to help avail more opportunities.

These pressures, especially when they come from the child’s parents, relatives, and teachers all at the same time, can lead to stress and anxiety. Parents must strike a balance between encouraging excellence and overwhelming their children with pressure. Even as they are pushed to achieve more, children need to feel validated for their efforts. As a result, this fosters a more positive attitude toward accomplishments, failure, and innate value.

In today’s digital age, children face a unique challenge posed by the vast internet landscape. The ubiquitous nature of social media, the possibility of cyberbullying, and the constant pressure to conform to abstract standards can be overwhelming.

It is critical to educate children, adolescents and their families on mental health issues. Parents and caregivers must be aware of the symptoms of mental health distress and understand the importance of seeking professional assistance when necessary. There is a need to be intentional about teaching children and adolescents the skills that build on their emotional intelligence, self-care, and the value of mental health as they mature. This education can be provided at school, religious and community-based level, by integrating mental health into conversations and teachings. Families must set aside time at home to learn about mental health and mental health challenges.

Even when children, adolescents, caregivers and communities in which they live in have done their best, mental health issues may require the intervention of a professional. If parents or caregivers notice or are alerted that their children are struggling with their mental health, they should not hesitate to seek professional help. They should be on the lookout for signs like persistent sadness, withdrawal from social activities, changes in eating or sleeping habits, difficulty concentrating, and increased fear or worry. Seeking help early ensures that children receive the assistance they require and creates space for likely positive outcomes.

Related Content: The Focus On Brain Health In Addressing Mental Health Issues

Dr. Karianjahi is a Consultant Paediatrician and an Adolescent Medicine Specialist at Gertrude’s Children’s Hospital. E-mail address nkarianjahi@gerties.org

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