By Oge Okafor
Global economic slowdown, global fall in price of oil, negative changes in the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), poor interest rates, fluctuating exchange rate, massive job cuts, rising unemployment, falling family incomes, rising inflation (consumer price index), cutting back on basics and the list goes on. All these are indicators of recession in Nigeria not to mention the ripple effects on Nigerians.
Have you ever given it a thought that this current economic recession Nigeria is experiencing is not only taking a toll on adults but it will as well affect the mental health of their children?
The World Mental Health Day, a day for global mental health education, awareness and advocacy against social stigma was commemorated on October 10 with the theme psychological first aid and the support people can provide to those in distress.
Ogun State Commissioner for Health, Dr Babatunde Ipaye, recently alluded to the fact that over 60 million Nigerians have various degrees of mental disorder.
Mental health, according to Wikipedia, is a level of psychological wellbeing or an absence of mental illness. It’s the psychological state of someone who is functioning at a satisfactory level of emotional and behavioral adjustment. Mental health according to medlineplus.gov. includes our emotional, psychological and social wellbeing. It affects how we think, feel and act as we cope with life. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others and make choices. Mental health is important at every stage of life, from childhood and adolescence through adulthood.
According to a new National Bureau of Economic Research study, economic downturns such as the great recession may cause children’s mental health to deteriorate.
Mental health professionals have long known that economic insecurity can negatively affect adult mental health. A 2011 review published in the Journal of Neuropsychiatry points to increases in suicide, substance abuse and mental health diagnoses associated with economic disasters. Some studies have established a connection between increase in suicides especially among middle-aged Americans and the Great Recession. Only recently, we heard cases of suicide and suicide attempts in Nigeria owing largely to these individuals not being able to cope with the economic recession Nigeria is undergoing.
The new study is one of the first to look at the effects of economic downturns on children’s mental health and the findings suggest children who grow up during a time of economic instability may be at greater risk of developing mental health issues.
For the study, researchers used data on children ages 4-17 from the 2001-2013 National Health Interview Survey. The survey also included details on utilization of special education services for mental and behavioral health issues. The team then compared this data to unemployment rates and housing prices during the Great Recession.
The study found some favourable economic measurements, such as lower unemployment rates can reduce the probability of a child experiencing a mental health issue. Roughly a 1.5 percent drop in unemployment rates reduces children’s risk of psychological issues by between 7.4 percent and 10.4 percent and also reduces the need for special education services by 5.7 percent. This means the 5 percent rise in unemployment rates during the Great Recession may have increased children’s need for mental health services by between 35percent and 50 percent.
The researchers note that changing economic climates can affect children even when their parents or families are not directly affected. Economic downturns can increase parental stress and job insecurity, potentially undermining children’s mental health by extension.
Dr Leonard Okonkwo, a psychiatrist, while corroborating this theory said although he hasn’t done any research to confirm such and neither has he seen children presenting with such issue but recession can affect children’s mental health.
He says that parents haven’t been able to purchase a lot of things they did for their children this year when compared to last year or previous years because of recession. More so , at the beginning of this session, not all school children resumed school, because parents have been unable to pay school fees and some parents have been forced to register their children in another school where the school fees is affordable.
Another instance is in states like Oyo and Osun where workers have not been paid salaries for several months, imagine the stress and trauma such parents and children are going through . This could lead further to fear, depression and anxiety over whether their school fees can be paid or their teachers could go on strike the next moment. All these have the capacity to affect their mental health.
Another analysis by Professor of Sociology at Trinity, Richard Layte, illustrates the main pathways through which poverty and deprivation hurt children. The study followed children from 2008 to 2010/11 and shows clearly how economic strain caused by unemployment and falling family incomes damaged parental mental health. This in turn sours the relationship between partners as well as create harsher, less warm parenting, according to his paper.
These poor relationships between parents and children were hugely damaging to child mental health, increasing levels of child anxiety and emotional problems as well as contributing to poor behaviour and conduct both at home and in the classroom, he explained. Anxious, unhappy children do worse in school with often long term consequences for both wealth and health.
Looking at the way out, coping strategy is paramount here. Although stress can enhance productivity if it does not exceed the minimum, Okonkwo says “we should all have hope of a brighter future, because it tends to help people cope better.
“Children are usually the most vulnerable in the society and bear the brunt and so government should be able to put structures in place for children to cope.
“In addition, adults should be more optimistic than pessimistic especially when they are around children”, he said adding “they should be, because children read the mood and body language of adults and their parents around them when they discuss economic developments which transfer negatively on their mental health.