World Mental Health Day was supported on 10 October 2022. Mental health is often seen through the lens of an adult. Although this is necessary and encouraged to stimulate conversation about mental health conditions and eradicate the stigma surrounding them, the issue of child mental health requires a greater focus.
What is Child Mental Health?
Child mental health plays a crucial part in a child’s general health and well-being and is equally as important as physical health. This encompasses their mental, emotional, and behavioral well-being, related to the way that they think, feel, and act. Additionally, mental health conditions, such as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety, and behavioral disorders are often diagnosed during early childhood.
Why is it Important?
The experiences during the early years of a child’s life are critical in shaping their brain development and laying down the foundations of their mental health. In particular, toxic stress, which comes from continual abuse, chronic neglect, and parental mental health problems, is closely linked with poorer child mental health, which leads to long-term consequences in their adult lives. By acknowledging the importance of mental health development during childhood, it is easier to implement solutions and preventative strategies for children to ensure that they are equipped with the right tools to self-regulate emotions and develop self-understanding for their future mental well-being.
The Issues that Today’s Children Encounter
The children of today face a multitude of challenges that may not have existed decades before. For example, the widespread use of technology and social media has greatly impacted child well-being, both positively and negatively. It has been reported that social media has been beneficial for displacing negative activities, such as illicit drug use, and children and adolescents experience lower rates of isolation as a result of being able to rapidly connect with new and current friends. However, adolescents have reported social media as an anxiety trigger, especially Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Cases of cyberbullying are prevalent, with reports showing that girls are twice as likely than boys to experience cyberbullying.
As well as social media, the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the mental health of children worldwide. A UNICEF-led survey in 2020 showed that 7 in 10 children and young people reported poorer mental health due to the impacts of the pandemic. This not only highlights mental health as a neglected and underfunded sector but also establishes the need for mental health support to be more readily available.
How to Promote Positive Child Mental Health
On a wider scale, promoting good child mental health requires increased knowledge and awareness of the topic. In Thailand, there are only 200 children- and adolescent-specialized psychiatrists for mental health, whilst the population of adolescents lies at 15 million. In recent years, UNICEF and the Department of Mental Health in Thailand have been creating partnerships to promote easier access to mental health services for children. For example, the Sound of Happiness campaign with JOOX Thailand aimed to help children and adolescents speak up about mental health via a podcast series and songs.
At a personal level, stimulating sound child mental health from a young age lies in the hands of their caregivers. In particular, play between the caregiver and child has been researched to reduce the likelihood of the child developing anxiety, depression, aggression, and sleep problems. This consequentially reduces toxic stress levels, which were mentioned earlier.
Most importantly, being supportive and nurturing of a child, whether as a preventative or comfort to poor mental health, is necessary to understand what the child is going through. The positive feedback cycle follows that they will be more trusting of their issues with you, will be able to express their emotions more overtly, and will therefore be able to find support when they are experiencing poor mental health. Ensuring that every child has a strong support system is an essential component of developing trusting bonds and better mental health.
– Cheryl Li
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