How does it feel when you hear the news of a 17-year old getting diagnosed with anorexia and facing a difficult teen but does not get the care and supervision needed by the healthcare system, which eventually pushes him to commit suicide? How does it feel when a mother shares how her teenage son was suffering from depression and that he wanted to get better but eventually committed suicide due to lack of treatment? She shares how important it is to treat mental health among children as seriously as we would treat a child suffering from cancer.
About 10-20% of children and adolescents around the world experience mental disorders. Half of all mental illnesses begin by the age of 14 and three-quarters by mid-20s. Neuropsychiatric conditions are the leading cause 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, in violation of their fundamental human rights.
At any given point of time, nearly 50 million Indian children suffer from mental disorders, and this number will increase if the adolescent population is considered as well. A study conducted in Lucknow estimated the prevalence of child and adolescent mental disorders as 12.1%. A similar study conducted in Bangalore revealed an overall prevalence of 12.5% while the rate was 12.4% in rural areas, 10.8% in slums, and 13.9% (highest) in urban areas of the city.
The National Mental Health Survey 2016 reported that the prevalence of mental disorders is 7.3% among children aged 13–17 years and it is similar in both genders.
However, it is estimated that <1% of the children and adolescents suffering from mental disorders receive treatment. There are several critical disorders including learning, speech, visual, hearing, and personality disorders that require multispecialty care which is not available and accessible even in urban areas.
Furthermore, very little attention has been given to the special population such as orphans, street children, juvenile homes, rescue homes, and many other places where children and adolescents are exposed to the higher risk of mental illness.
In spite of the existence of effective interventions for the care of children and adolescents with mental disorders, a huge proportion of those with these disorders do not have access to care due to a series of barriers. These barriers to treatment are several, including lack of resources (financial, human resources, facilities), stigma, lack of public knowledge about mental disorders in children and adolescents and other barriers evident in both the developed and developing world. Though progress has been made in developing effective treatments, children and adolescents with mental disorders and their caregivers remain stigmatized. Economic decline in developed countries and competition for financial resources in developing countries almost universally impacts mental health services disproportionately. Priority is given to those illnesses labelled as physical without the recognition of the association with mental disorders or recognition of the burden associated with mental disorders.
As per the WHO directions, interventions can be improved for child and adolescent mental health by improving family communication and involvement; increasing awareness of psychosocial development in the most basic terms such as understanding that adolescents can be moody, that young people strive to be autonomous can reduce conflicts in the family; encourage the development of national child and adolescent mental health policy; expansive understanding of child psychology in primary health care, community care and schools; improve access by promoting healthcare centers at community level; ensure availability and accessibility of necessary services and resources in both urban and rural areas for equitable distribution of care; and the environment within and outside the residence and school should be friendly for the optimum development of the children and adolescents. Initiatives such as school health program, teacher's orientation program, student enrichment program, and school-based campaigns as being done by NIMHANS which aims to increase awareness about psychosocial disorders, understand self, and improve interpersonal relationships with peers and teachers, should be greatly encouraged and implemented.
Hossain, M., & Purohit, N. (2019). Improving child and adolescent mental health in India: Status, services, policies, and way forward. Indian Journal of Psychiatry, 61(4), 415. doi: 10.4103/psychiatry.indianjpsychiatry_217_18
Child and adolescent mental health. (2018, September 28). Retrieved from here.
Artist Alison Lapper says her son Parys did not get the help he needed. (2019, September 03).
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