It is one problem that is causing considerable ripples in the minds of many. The rate at which young children and teenagers suffer depression, consider suicide and abuse sex and dangerous substances has become alarming across the country. And this, experts have noted, could have considerable impact on their mental health.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) states that half of all mental illnesses begin by the age of 14 while three-quarters begin by the mid-20s. Medical experts have also argued that a vast majority of young people that suffer mental health challenges do not get the required interventions at an early age. Thus, by the time they become adults, they would not have been imbued with the strength needed to help them overcome such challenges and develop into healthy adults.
To help address the problem of mental health challenges in children and young people, the management of Corona Schools, one of the foremost post-primary secondary education providers in Nigeria, on Saturday, March 23, organised a one-day symposium on mental health for parents, teachers and members of the school management.
Held at the Tafawa Balewa Square Auditorium, Lagos, the event paraded several experts that sufficiently tackled topics, including how to raise a total child devoid of depression and suicidal thoughts, child abuse and personality disorder, building a child’s self-esteem, revealing the secret signs of hidden depression and proffering solutions, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
While welcoming participants, the CEO, Corona Schools Trust Council, Mrs. Adeyoyin Adesina, noted that the issue of mental health in children had become worrisome and should be adequately addressed, “especially in our environment where such developments are often swept under the carpet, where information on mental health service is lacking and there is considerable neglect of mental health issues.”
“The statistics of young people recorded annually to be victims of depression, suicide, sex, child and substance abuse is heart-breaking. Mental health issues have become more disastrous than sicknesses like diabetes, asthma, cancer and even HIV. This is the time for parents, teachers and caregivers to be more sensitive and deliberate about moulding the next generation and be well knowledgeable to do it the right way because times are changing. The parenting methods that worked in the past may no longer be effective in this era. More so, the level of exposure of our youths and children to substance, physical and emotional abuse has grown exponentially. We need to be equipped with the right information to identify the signs, make a difference and a positive impact in the lives of these young ones, and even adults who are so affected,” she said.
Adesina promised that Corona would continue to hold such sensitive events.
“As you know, Corona is the best and always stands for the best. This is the first edition and, hopefully, we would be replicating this in subsequent years and definitely on a bigger scale,” she said.
Mental health physician and advocate, Dr. Maymunah Yusuf Kadiri, spoke on “Raising a total child devoid of depression and suicidal thoughts.”
Kadiri described the idea that children do not suffer depression as a fallacy.
“People often believe that children can’t get depressed. But they forget that depression is not bound by age, colour or race. Although depression could be hereditary, oftentimes, it is caused by several incidences occurring in the child that he is bottling up, especially when the parents are not there for him or her.
“As a parent, you must note that your biggest asset in life is your child, hence you must intentionally connect with them. Because it is only when you connect with them that you will notice the decline in school performance, their poor grades despite strong efforts, constant worry or anxiety, repeated refusal to take part in normal activities they used to enjoy doing before, hyperactivity or fidgeting, persistent nightmares, persistent disobedience or aggression, frequent temper tantrums, sadness or irritability, which are all signs of depression in children. They could even take to alcohol and drug abuse, have sleep disorder or often loss of appetite even for favourite foods.”
Kadiri urged parents to quickly take their children to a specialist at the slightest sign of depression: “Try and engage with your child a lot. Listen to them without being eager to respond. Hear all they have to say, and know that the mind of a child is more fragile than that of an adult. They pay attention to everything, especially how you treat them and attend to their calls.”
A psychotherapist, Gbemisola Ogunrinde, spoke on “Ways to build a child’s self-esteem.”
According to her, mental illness is usually attributed to several factors, certainly not spiritual, as most Africans believe.
“It could be genetic,” she noted. “Mental illness is more common in people whose blood relatives also have a mental illness. Certain genes may increase your risk of developing a mental illness, and your life situation may trigger it, maybe as a result of adverse childhood experiences, or exposure to environmental stressors. Inflammatory conditions, toxins, alcohol or drugs while in the womb can sometimes be linked to mental illness.”
She explained that low self-esteem is when individuals see themselves differently from whom they believe they should be. This is very common with children who lack the right upbringing, she noted.
The psychotherapist explained that low self-esteem could occur when a child is struggling academically without parental support.
“Children who have a hard time in school in general, or even in a particular subject, who do not receive the help and support they need at school or at home, are at a greatly increased risk of suffering from low self-esteem. This makes them feel like they cannot be successful, and that they are not smart or good at school.
“Bullying is another issue that can start young and last a lifetime. Children and teens that are bullied, teased, and put down, develop a negative self-image that can carry over into their adult lives. If parents, teachers, administrators, or a solid peer group do not step in to undo the damage that a bully is causing, the individual can hold on to this pain and negative self-image for a lifetime. But as parents and teachers, the bulk of the work is with us. We should endeavour we pay attention to our children. Don’t be too busy not to have time for your child,” she said.
Ogunrinde listed symptoms of low self-esteem to include “feeling hopeless or worthless, blaming oneself unfairly, hating oneself, as well as worrying about being unable to do things, among other symptoms.”
She counselled that parents, teachers and guardians must teach children how to like and value themselves. She also advised that the children must be “trusted to be able to make some decisions that affect their lives, recognise their strengths, help them to try new or difficult things, show kindness towards themselves, move past mistakes without blaming themselves unfairly, help them believe they matter and are good enough and deserve happiness.”
On why the school decided to hold such a programme, director of education, Corona Schools Trust Council, Mrs. Amelia Dafetam, said: “The Corona Trust Council decided to lend a voice having noticed the rate at which mental illness is growing, as you sometimes hear of children committing suicide. So, we decided to contribute our own quota to the society by raising awareness about this and creating the consciousness in parents and teachers to pay attention to their children.”
The school principal, Mrs. Chinedum Oluwadamilola, said the event was quite significant.
“This event is a wake-up call to parents to take their mental health and that of their child seriously. As the saying goes, a stitch in time saves nine,” she said.