Ms. Alka Kapur, (CBSE & State Awardee) Principal, Modern Public School, Shalimar Bagh, Delhi is an empowering leader, a zealous educationist with rich academic and administrative experience offering an illustrious career of 32 years in educational research. As the Principal of the school, she has taken the school to great heights through open attitude for learning and love for children. Twenty years of her sedulous selfless service as the Principal has accorded the school a priceless status in Forbes India Marquee Edition, The Great Indian Schools.
Much like adults, mental illnesses can affect the children too, and it can be even more problematic because they often can’t express what they’re feeling. There can be several reasons – physiological and psychological – that can cause a child to suffer from a mental illness. Students suffering from mental health issues struggle in the school environment if their needs aren’t being met.
While the education sector has been trying to deal with this problem for a long time, the Covid-19 pandemic has added fuel to the fire. Students suddenly had to transit from classroom learning to online learning. They can no longer play outside with their friends. Many of the students who are appearing for board exams are dealing with uncertainty regarding the exam dates and patterns, which could lead to stress and anxiety. Considering all this, we can say that it is extremely important for parents and teachers to learn how to identify early symptoms of mental illness among the children/students so that they can intervene at the right moment.
Why is it difficult to identify mental health disorders among children?
Identifying mental health disorders among children is not easy, and there are several reasons for that.
- Childhood development is a process that involves change. So it may be difficult to interpret whether a new change is part of the process or the symptom of a mental disorder.
- Children of different ages exhibit different symptoms for the same disorder.
- Children are not adept at explaining their thoughts, behavior, and feelings clearly.
- Unfortunately, sometimes the students have to live with undiagnosed mental disorders because the parents tend to ignore or suppress those symptoms as the term “mental disorder” has a lot of stigmas associated with it.
Most common mental health disorders among children
Children/students may suffer from the following mental/developmental disorders.
- Anxiety disorder: Children can often exhibit a persistent fear, worry, or anxiousness that may severely affect their ability to take part in school activities, playing, and age-appropriate social situations. Social anxiety, generalized anxiety, and obsessive-compulsive disorders (OCD) are the most commonly diagnosed disorders.
- Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD): According to a survey conducted by NCBI, 11.32% of primary students suffer from ADHD. These students face difficulty when they’re trying to concentrate; they tend to have a short attention span and exhibit impulsive behaviors and hyperactivity.
- Autism spectrum disorder (ASD): This disorder usually affects children quite early in their life (usually before the age of 3). As the name suggests, the severity of the disorder may vary from student to student, but they all have difficulty communicating and interacting with other people, which may often come out in the form of emotional outbursts in social situations.
- Eating disorders: Symptoms of eating disorders may include obsessions with an ideal body type, disordered thinking about weight and weight loss, and irregular eating habits. Eating disorders — such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge-eating disorder — can lead to emotional and social dysfunction and life-threatening physical complications.
- Depression: Millions of students all over the world suffer from depression, which is a persistent feeling of gloominess or lack of interest in everything. It may affect a student’s ability to function properly in school and at home. Bipolar disorder is another common mood disorder that causes sudden and extreme shifts in mood, from depression to mania, which takes a heavy toll on a child’s mental condition.
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): Children who have either witnessed or have been subjected to violence can suffer from PTSD. If left undiagnosed, it can also lead to APDs (Antisocial Personality Disorders) which may result in the partial or total lack of empathy and stunted emotional growth.
- Schizophrenia: Schizophrenia is one of the most debilitating mental disorders that can cause a person to lose touch with reality. Students who suffer from schizophrenia may suffer from vivid auditory or visual hallucinations. Schizophrenia often is a chronic disease that requires lifelong care and medication. Early diagnosis, however, can help control psychotic episodes by a great deal and help students live a normal life.
What are the indicators of mental illnesses among students that you should keep an eye out for?
If you observe any of the following symptoms among your children/students, seek out professional help immediately.
- Prolonged sadness and dullness that lasts more than two weeks
- Social withdrawal
- Self-harm or the ideation of self-harm
- Violent behavior that may pose a threat to the child in concern and those surrounding him/her
- Suicide ideation
- Emotional outbursts and irritable demeanor
- Sudden shifts in mood
- Sudden changes in eating habits
- Sudden loss or gain of weight
- Frequent headaches or stomachaches
- Trouble focusing and concentrating
- Degradation of academic performance
- Avoiding school and friends
How to help children cope with mental disorders
Parents and teachers can play a huge role in a child’s treatment plan. They spend a lot of time with children and can easily observe any changes in their behavioural patterns. Following are some of the steps that need to be followed to fast-track the treatment:
- Make sure you learn about the illness in detail. The more you know about the disease, the easier it will be for you to manage it.
- As a parent, you should consider family counseling as well.
- Consult your child’s mental health advisor for advice on how to deal with difficult situations posed because of the disease.
- The parents and teachers should enroll in a training program, where they can learn about the different types of mental illnesses and how they affect a child’s behavior.
- Dealing with a child who is facing mental issues can often be emotionally taxing. Make sure you learn to respond calmly and rationally.
- Find out ways to engage your child in fun and relaxing activities.
- Celebrate every improvement – no matter how small it is.
- The parents should contact their child’s school authorities and brief them about the situation. This way, the school staff will be able to monitor the child closely.
Mental health awareness is the need of the hour, and thankfully we’re finding success in peeling back the layers of the stigma that have covered mental illnesses for a long time. It is necessary to realize that just like any other part of our body, our brain is susceptible to malfunction as well. However, by providing the right support at the right time, we can help our children fight these disorders.