Importance of raising awareness about mental health in young people |28 April 2018
Mental health problems in children and young people include depression, self-harm, anxiety and conduct disorder, and are often a direct response to what is happening in their lives.
There are a number of risk factors that make young people more likely to experience mental health problems, including, but not limited to, having a long-term physical illness, a parent who has had a mental health problem and experiencing the death of someone close to them (MHF).
10-20% of children and adolescents worldwide experience mental disorders with half of all mental illnesses beginning by the age of 14 and three-quarters by mid-20s. Neuropsychiatric conditions are the leading causes of disability in young people in all regions. If untreated, these conditions severely influence children’s development, their educational attainments and their potential to live fulfilling and productive lives. Children with mental disorders face major challenges with stigma, isolation and discrimination, as well as lack of access to health care and education facilities (WHO).
Earlier this month, the National Council for Children (NCC) in partnership with the Ministry of Health, launched a series of activities over the course of Recovery Week which aimed to increase local awareness about mental health in children. Recovery Week is an activity that the mental health section of the Ministry of Health organises every year as part of its awareness campaign on mental health.
Sharon Meriton-Jean, communications coordinator at the NCC, shares details on the importance of such a collaboration and its resulting activities.
She explains that every year, the mental health section of the Ministry of Health dedicates one week to mental health awareness and this year it was dedicated to children. Children in foster care and foster homes were given particular attention since they are a vulnerable group, hence why the NCC also worked with the Seychelles Children’s Foundation (SCF) through their caregivers at the President’s Village.
Mrs Meriton-Jean adds that although there is almost no data on mental illnesses in Seychelles, depression remains one of the most common forms of mental problems that young clients of the NCC are often diagnosed with. Most cases of depression, if encountered by the NCC, are referred to the mental health hospital. It is very common for teenagers to have emotional disturbances and hence their mental health becomes affected.
It is therefore important for those working with children, such as the NCC, school counsellors and caregivers to learn the symptoms of mental illnesses in young people, know how to deal with these issues and who to report the cases to. Mental health issues are closely related to delinquency and deviant behaviour in various settings such as schools and homes, hence why there was a need for the NCC, SCF and the mental health section to come together and better understand how each role intertwines so as to support each other.
The programme for Recovery Week included music therapy for primary/secondary school children, vocal therapy sessions for children/adults and presentations on:
- Mental health and illness in children and youth
- Normal development in children and youth
- Adolescent depression
- Prevention and creation of healthy environments
According to Mrs Meriton-Jean, the presentations by Dr Anna and Ms Marina gave an overview of the situation of mental health in Seychelles, especially amongst children where depression is quite alarming. They agreed that most people suffer in silence or find other means to cope such as alcohol abuse. They also spoke of various illnesses that can have an effect on the mental state of a person such as autism.
On the second day, presentations concentrated on deviant behaviour amongst teenagers as a mental instability which often leads to delinquency. The last presentations provided delegates with some tools, such as using the voice, on how to better cope with children displaying such behaviours.
The vocal therapy sessions, coordinated by two professional Russian music therapists aimed to help children learn to express their feelings in a better way through music, hence having a direct impact on the state of their mental wellbeing.
Mrs Meriton-Jean notes that the NCC helped to coordinate these activities because their staff also needed to learn more about mental health in children, especially since it is said that only one in five children with mental health problems receives any sort of help during their lifetime because it is wrongly diagnosed or not diagnosed at all.
The NCC hopes that through this collaboration, the caregivers, counsellors and their own staff are now better equipped to deal with children using theories, music and other techniques that they have learned. In the future, the mental health section hopes to continue providing such trainings through the NCC and its partners.
References: Mental Health Foundation (MHF); World Health Organisation (WHO)
Photo sources: NCC