A large and growing number of children and adolescents worldwide and specifically in India, face various mental health difficulties. The Association for Children’s Mental Health (ACMH) has reported that 1 in 5 children and youth have some diagnosable emotional, behavioural, or mental health disorder.
At any given point in time, nearly 50 million Indian children suffer from mental disorders, which will increase if the adolescent population is considered (Shastri, 2009). The National Mental Health Survey of India (2015-2016) had estimated that nearly 7.3% of Indian adolescents (13-17 years) suffer from mental health problems.
One of the biggest challenges in identifying mental health issues in children is usually the fact that childhood is a time of constant behavioural changes and developments. Even under the best of circumstances, one may not be able to differentiate between these changes typical to child development and those that can cause concern.
In addition, depending on their age, many children fail to express the reason behind their behaviour and actions. Also, in many cases, parents may refrain from noticing these changes or seeking support for their children due to lack of knowledge or in a bid to avoid social stigma and isolation.
But it is important to understand that many mental health disorders can occur during childhood. Many adults who seek treatment reflect on how these disorders affected their childhood and wished that they had received help sooner.
Mental health disorders in children are generally defined as delays or disruptions in developing age-appropriate thinking, behaviours, social skills or regulation of emotions. These problems are distressing to children and disrupt their ability to function well at home, in school or in other social situations. In several cases, these patterns of thinking, behaving and feeling might not lead to a diagnosable mental health condition but may still cause a negative impact on the overall functioning and well-being of the children.
The prevalence of mental health problems has only increased during the Covid-19 pandemic, which holds true for children. By spending more time at home, children are facing various emotional, behavioural and mental challenges. Parents play a pivotal role as they need to pay attention to the behaviour, habits and other mental health indicators to identify whether the child needs support. The first and most important thing is to understand the various common mental health difficulties faced by children:
Mental health in children is crucial and can be prevented or treated with the right kind of professional help; guidance, support and encouragement from parents, teachers and peers. Healthy and unconditional motivation and support can enable children to develop self-belief in a responsible and sustainable manner. It is also important to include and work with the child’s school to seek the necessary support.