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Mental Health for children

Mental health refers to a state of well-being in the mental aspect, where people are able to deal with stress in their life, acknowledge their abilities, and are able to study and work well. Which helps them to contribute to the community they are involved in.

Mental health is not just the absence of mental health conditions, it occurs differently among people, with different levels of difficulties and distress that results in various social and clinical outcomes.

Difference between mental health and physical health for children

There’s differentiation between mental health and physical health for children.

Mental health is the emotions that children feel about the world surrounding them and themselves. This influences how children deal with stressful situations they face in the future.

Physical health refers to the body condition of a child, which includes the details of their fitness level and if there is an absence of disease. It can be influenced by lifestyle habits, genetics, physiology, environment, and healthcare services.

Good mental health during childhood ensures that children are able to reach their developmental and psychological milestones.

Children will be able to learn social skills that help them in their life while tackling their problems. They will be able to perform better at home, school and within their community. Thus, developing a good quality of life.

Determinants of mental health affect children's growth, physically, psychologically, and socially.

The determinants are:

  1. Social inequalities

Social inequalities from young may impact the child’s life in the future.

  1. Poverty and income inequality

Poverty and income inequality are related to issues such as lack of nutrition, limited healthcare and dangerous neighbourhoods for children.

  1. Poverty and academic attainment

Research has found that children impacted by poverty have poor short-term memory, unable to perform the same tasks compared to children from middle-income backgrounds.

It is noted that children who suffer from poverty have a higher chance of experiencing chronic stress that may plague them in the future.

  1. Poverty and psychosocial outcomes

Research has found that poverty increases risk of behavioural and psychological problems in a child.

The child may behave impulsively, suffer from lack of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety, depression and low self-esteem.

Children are likely engaged in anti-social behaviour (being a bully) or adopting a helpless behaviour, compared to children from a wealthy family.

  1. Poverty and physical health

Children who suffer from poverty are found to have smaller white matter, cortical grey matter, lower volumes of hippocampal and amygdala in their brain.

Health risks such as asthma, anemia, overweight, obesity, toxicity from water and food contamination may occur and affect children.

  1. Income inequality and well-being

Children in the lower levels of the socio-economic group are found to experience poor conditions that lead to poor health development. They are likely to face higher BMI, psychological symptoms and poor quality of life.

However, the impact from such development can be managed or lessened with positive parenting, healthy social and emotional bonds with others.

  1. Food insecurity, malnutrition and mental health

Children who are unable to have safe and nutritious food for their needs are found to suffer from malnutrition.

Malnutrition and food insecurity increase risk of children developing diseases and poorer mental health (depression and anxiety). Especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, where data suggest that there are increased cases of malnutrition and food insecurity faced by children and their families.

  1. Food insecurity and access to healthcare

Food insecurity is found to increase risk of children suffering from acute and chronic diseases.

Research conducted by Thomas et al. found that children suffering from food insecurity have lifelong depressive symptoms that are 19.1% and 27.9% higher compared to the emergency department rate, which is 25.9% higher.

  1. Maternal over and under nutrition, and health of the child

Undernutrition and low pregnancy BMI faced by the mother may cause poor birth outcomes. Overnutrition may lead to poor mental health faced by children.

To ensure a child’s neurodevelopmental aspects are adequate and have a normal birth weight, mothers must consume enough nutrients in their diet.

  1. Malnutrition and cognitive development

Cognitive development of a child is found to be affected by malnutrition, which increases risk of developing chronic illness in the future.

Research found that children who suffer from malnutrition will enter primary school later compared to others, stand a higher risk of dropping out from school and develop difficulties learning in their classes.

  1. Environment factors: Neighbourhood and community

Neighbourhood and community shape a child’s growth. Exposure to violence, pollutants and geographical factors may result in poor mental and physical health of a child.

  1. Trauma

Traumatic events (abuse, neglect, or parents who suffer from untreated mental disorder) from young may lead to toxic stress and impact the child’s life in the future.

  1. Racism

Racism refers to a belief that a certain race should be the primary determinant of the traits, abilities, and rights of the human. Usually, racial differences (skin colour) are used to determine and compared to the mentioned race for superiority.

Depression, anxiety, chronic stress, nervousness, ADHD, and eating disorders are common and on the rise among children in Singapore.

Parents ought to take note and observe signs that are shown by their child’s behaviour, which may indicate mental health problems.

● Sadness that is persistent and lasts for more than two weeks or longer.

● Avoiding or refusing to interact socially.

● Talking about hurting or physically hurting themselves.

● Mentioning suicide and death.

● Easily irritated and having outburst

● Behaviours that are sudden, non-controllable and harmful.

● Sudden change in mood, behaviour, and personality.

● Difference in habits for eating.

● Loss of weight.

● Poor sleeping habits or struggling to sleep.

● Suffering from headaches and stomach aches regularly.

● Poor academic performance.

● Skipping classes or school.

What are the mental health treatments for children?

Before going through treatment, doctors will have to diagnose the child from their signs, symptoms and whether it has impacted their life.

A specialist is highly recommended to evaluate your child’s symptoms and signs, such as the psychiatrists, psychologist, clinical social worker, psychiatric nurse or other mental health care professionals.

Diagnosis of the child will typically follow guidelines from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) and the International Classification of Diseases (ICD).

Parents ought to be patient with the diagnosis, as children may face difficulties showing or speaking about their emotions. The diagnosis may change or become specific overtime.

The evaluation typically are:

  1. Medical examination

  2. Medical history

  3. History of psychological and physical trauma

  4. History of physical and mental health of the family

  5. Review of the symptoms and concerns with the parents

  6. The timeline of the progress in the child’s development.

  7. History of the child’s academic performances

  8. An interview with the parents

  9. Observation and conversations about the child

  10. Assessments and questionnaires that are standardized for both the child and the parents

After the diagnosis, treatments are available for the child. The common treatments are:

● Psychotherapy

● Medication

In order to help their child, parents should:

  1. Understand, read and learn about the disorder.

  2. Consider counselling for the family, where they are partnering up to manage the treatment plan.

  3. Ask advice from the mental healthcare profession that their child is seeing.

  4. Apply for parent training programs, especially those that include children with mental health conditions.

  5. Learn about stress management techniques to respond calmly to your child.

  6. Find ways that help your child relax and enjoy their time.

  7. Compliment the strength and the abilities of your child.

  8. Work well with the school management team for support and updates of your child.

I hope the information available helps you to understand more about mental health and the actions parents may do for children to maintain good mental health. As this article may serve as an aid to help you recognize the signs of mental distress in your child and how you may help them.

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