WHY IS MENTAL HEALTH IMPORTANT IN CHILDREN

8 min


Childhood is an important and special stage of everyone’s life. Moreover, these are the years that determine the type of person we turn into. Childhood is special and precious to everyone if we were well taken care of and given the proper attention. It is very essential to make these years pleasurable and enjoyable for children. This is equally everyone’s duty. Especially, the parents, the teacher, caretakers and every person around them.

Children are very delicate and fragile. Any trauma or mishaps during the childhood stage of life leaves a great impact on our lives. Childhood trauma changes a person intellectually and emotionally to a great extent. In this article, we will focus on 7 important mental disorder’s that are common in children. We will also understand the mental status of a child and how it affects them in everyday life.

NEURODEVELOPEMENT IN CHILDREN:

The limbic system is one of the most important things we need to understand in order to decode a child’s mental development. It is that part of the brain responsible for attention, concentration, emotions, memories and a whole lot. It is the learning centre of the brain. Further, it consists of 3 structures namely,

  • Pre-frontal cortex
  • Hippocampus
  • Amygdala

Pre-frontal cortex:

This part of the limbic system is responsible for focus and attention.

Hippocampus:

The main function of this structure is retaining memory.

Amygdala:

The amygdala is an important part of the brain that gives rise to emotions in human

All these three structure develop at the same time and are intimately connected and wired. Two main hormones that act on the receptors of the limbic system are the cortisol (stress hormone) and the oxytocin (love and trust hormone). It is quirky because both of them have the exact different functions.

HOW DOES CHILDREN WITH A GOOD MENTAL HEALTH LOOK LIKE:

Firstly, to detect an abnormality we need to understand what normal looks like. Further, this gives us a clear idea of the underlying conditions. So, let’s see some general points that indicate a child is happy in a wholesome way (both physically and mentally).

Further, whenever we think of mental health and problems in children we tend to kind of compare them with adults. We tend to see equivalents of depressed or schizophrenic adults in children. It’s important to understand that mental issues look different in a child. So back to focusing, good mental health looks like the following,

  • It looks like a child who is curious and interested in the world. They always want to learn about stuff and ask a lot of questions. Sometimes they can even sit back and reflect on what’s going on.
  • They have the ability to experience love, affection and emotions.
  • Moreover, these kids can become upset when things do not go their way, But, they can quickly return to normal without needing much intervention or levelling.

HOW DO MENTAL IMPAIRMENTS DEVELOP DURING CHILDHOOD:

It is very clear that all aspects of brain function are a result of interaction between experience and genetics. Studies in recent times have indicated that mental illness has a great genetic component. On the other hand, it is equally important to understand that mental health, behaviour and personality can greatly be malleable to environmental influences. But this is not something threatening. This is how all of us grow and become adults. Further, genetics and experiences are just ways of setting up the operating systems like the brain, neurons etc.,

THE 7 MOST COMMON MENTAL ISSUES IN CHILDREN:

STRESS:

Severe stressful events can be damaging to the developing architecture of the brain. This creates an unstable environment with an unstable foundation. Children have something called ‘experience dependant growth’. They grow in response to the experience in relationships. The stress response is mediated by a hormone called ‘cortisol’ in the body. Stress is not a bad thing. It is adaptive and helps us to focus.

On the other hand, in good sense stress can help us prepare for an oration, exam etc. But, when this system is triggered over and over again it gets locked in a permanent position leading to what we call ‘chronic stress’. Now, this is not good. When this kind of stress is not checked upon by an adult the results could be overwhelming. This causes damage and consequences to the developing limbic system. The amygdala can grow disproportionate to the other 2 structures.

MANAGING STRESS:

One of the best ways to prevent stress in children is by not only being nice to them. On the other hand, we should form and develop a bond that is sufficiently powerful and trustworthy. So whenever children come to us with our problems, we should listen to them genuinely and help sort their issues. This triggers and releases oxytocin thus unwiring the stress buildup by cortisol. This not only manages stress in the present period but creates resilience to any type of stress in the future. They learn to manage their own issues after a couple of sessions with the caretaker or the parent.

Further, it is always good to have mild to moderate amounts of stress. Failures and disappointments are actually a stimulus in the positive sense of brain growth. Removing problems and stress doesn’t create any impact on the brain and thus recedes development. Hence remember to allow children to grow at their own phase and just be a person they can trust and go to at times of need.

DEPRESSION IN CHILDREN:

The occasional feeling of blues is part of every child’s life. But, when a child is persistently sad, lonely, lose interest in things which he or she once used to love are all signs to watch out for. We may observe some of the following symptoms,

  • Feeling irritable, sad and lonely most of the times.
  • Drastic changes in the sleep pattern, eating habits, energy levels etc. Oftentimes we might mistake them for being lazy, sluggish etc
  • Being unmotivated and remaining tired without doing any task
  • Lack of interest and failing terribly at studies
  • Aversion towards people and things
  • Self-injury and self-destructive behaviour is very common
  • In later stages, even suicidal thoughts are common.

Suicide is a major cause of death in the younger population. It is very high at an age group between 10 to 24 years of age.

BEHAVIOUR AND CONDUCT DISORDERS IN CHILDREN:

CONDUCT DISORDER:

Conduct disorder is kind of different from the above-said conditions. It is rather harmful to the child and the people around them. It involves violent or aggressive behaviour. Some of the following symptoms may be observed.

  • Frequently breaking rules and law at schools, public places, home etc.
  • Very aggressive and uncontrolled behaviour
  • Harming or hurting others
  • Running away
  • Exhibiting bullying, cruelty to humans, animals etc.,
  • Damaging things at school, home (especially other people’s), using foul language, stealing, lying etc.

They often exhibit bad behaviour, get injured frequently and have a difficult time getting along with their folks and peers.

OPPOSITIONAL DEFIANT DISORDER (ODD) IN CHILDREN:

It is often common between the age groups of 7 and 12. This behaviour is often exhibited towards the people they know well like their parents, caretakers, peers etc. This often aggravates when the kid is hungry or tired

Some of the following maybe exibited,

  • Always acting odd
  • Never complying with what elders say
  • Always arguing and losing temper
  • Often annoying others or letting themselves be annoyed.
  • Questioning rules, tantrum throws
  • Mean, hateful talk and spiteful behaviour.

MANAGING ODD:

Positive reinforcement and behaviour therapies are very helpful in managing ODD. Parent management therapy, cognitive behavioural therapy, family psychotherapy can go a long way in managing ODD. This helps in improving the attitude of the child towards elders, give a better perspective for the parents to manage children. It also greatly improves the co-operation of the child.

ATTENTION-DEFICIT OR HYPERACTIVITY DISORDER (ADHD):

Many of us would be pretty familiar with ADHD. It is a common neurodevelopmental disorder. It cannot be completely cured but can be managed well. Some of the common presentations of ADHD include,

  • As the name indicates these kids may be hyperactive or have difficulty paying attention
  • They may be fidgeting constantly, take unnecessary risks
  • They just dive into an activity without thinking of the consequences
  • Talking too much, difficulty getting along with people
  • Daydreaming is very common, they tend to be very forgetful.

CAUSES OF ADHD:

Some of the common causes include,

  • Premature delivery or low birth weight
  • Injury to the brain
  • Exposure to environmental hazards like lead during pregnancy
  • Alcohol and drug intake during pregnancy.

TOURETTE SYNDROME:

It’s commonly known as ‘tics’. It is a condition of the nervous system. People with this condition might exhibit sudden turns, quick movements, repeated blinking etc. It is usually out of their control. This condition has an onset, especially between 5 to 10 years. It is predominantly a genetic condition

People with tics might experience,

  • A rise in these involuntary movements during the day time especially when there is an episode of stressful events
  • This condition is often chronic
  • They might slowly regress as the child grows but it can even become worse for some people.
  • This may often occur in addition to OCD and ADHD

OBSESSIVE COMPULSIVE DISORDER (OCD):

OCD is also quite familiar among us. Even most of the adults have this condition. It can have the following presentations,

  • Urge to constantly repeat a particular phrase, keep on counting, having unwanted thoughts or impulses that cause distress
  • They have weird feelings. They tend to keep on checking on things.
  • These kids might be particularly conscious about the order things are arranged etc.
  • Having the tendency to do something over and over.

Treating OCD might often require the help of a healthcare provider. Cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT), medications, family therapy etc. might be of great help to improve the situation.

POST TRAUMATIC STRESS DISORDER (PTSD):

As the name implies, this condition is very common after an impactful stress. It is also very common in adults. PTSD might result from severe stress that lasts more more than a month. This could result fro death of a dear one, threats in any form, violence etc.

Symptoms include,

  • Reliving the moments, nightmares, sleep problems, fear, sadness etc.
  • Irritability, anger, shouting are common
  • Feeling threatened, startled, hopeless and withdrawn are also common

Often to treat PTSD, therapy and help of a professional might be required.

CONCLUSION:

To sum up, our goal is to create productive citizens that become a part of a thriving community. In an emotionally healthy upbringing, kids are not expected to be perfect. They can grow at their own phase and can be corrected when they go wrong. This period of freedom prepares them to submit to the needs of the society one day. Let’s make this world a better place for the upcoming generations on this International children’s day.


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Dr Kavitha M

I am an undergraduate degree holder in dentistry. I have a great interest in music and reading. I am a linguaphile. My areas of interest lie in psychology, medical imaging, diagnostics, and oncology. I am a person who focuses more on the emerging areas of forensics.

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