- World Mental Health Day 2021 theme: Mental health in an unequal world
- Parents should create an emotionally safe space for children: Dr Amit Sen
- Children should be able to express without the fear of being judged: Dr Sen
New Delhi: “One of my clients is a 13-year-old boy who has been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and also has learning disabilities. He studies in a very inclusive school and is exceptionally good at sports – football and taekwondo and music as well. But, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, when classes moved online, he couldn’t get the same kind of support from school and friends. Within a few months, he started to show huge behavioural change – mood swings, emotional and angry outbursts and we soon realised that he was slipping into a depression”, shared Dr Amit Sen, Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist.
The teenager’s parents were quick to notice the changes and provide support in the form of, finding ways to channelise their son’s energy; getting him a pet; arranging online classes in music. Since the boy found it extremely hard to continue school, parents suggested suspending classes for some time and instead opting for personalised teaching.
With collaborative efforts of the boy, parents and a professional, the teenager is doing better now. Similarly, every child – be it a young boy, teenager or adolescent – needs the support of the family when dealing with mental health issues, said Dr Sen.
As we celebrate World Mental Health Day 2021 for the second time under the shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic, NDTV speaks to Dr Amit Sen to get some tips for parents to support their children emotionally during these trying times.
Five Tips For Parents On How They Can Support Children With Mental Health Issues
Awareness And Acceptance
Many a time when children go through mental health difficulties, their daily rhythms like behaviour, mood, sleep, and appetite change. Typically speaking, especially the behaviour changes like mood or anger outbursts are dealt with in a behavioural way. Meaning they are seen as bad behaviour and there is an attempt to discipline the child through taking away privileges, reprimand, criticism, scolding and sometimes beating them up. That makes it worse, said Dr Sen.
Therefore, the first thing is to be aware that a change in a child’s behaviour is an indication of inner turmoil. Parents also need to be aware that stress, uncertainty, fear, COVID induced anxiety and the disruption of schools and routine has resulted in an increase in mental health issues among children.
Create Emotionally Safe Space
Dr Sen recommends bringing down some of the expectations from children going through a difficult phase emotionally. Expectations not only in academics but also in daily routine things like getting up, brushing, bathing, and changing clothes.
The child may not want to get out of bed or may only demand junk food which might seem like bad behaviour. However, children might be asking for junk food because they can’t tolerate regular food anymore as they have lost appetite. They are looking for comfort food that helps in reducing anxiety and uplifting mood. However, this doesn’t mean you give in to all kinds of demands but try to support them. Give your child the space and time to overcome situations instead of pushing them into doing things. Your child is not deliberately acting a particular way. Children also go through a lot of guilt thinking they are letting others down, said Dr Sen.
Listen Rather Than Give Solutions
Creating an emotionally safe space also means letting the child express without the fear of being judged, criticized and getting a thought that ‘my parents will give a solution or lecture’. Elaborating on the point, Dr Sen said,
The moment children begin to share their challenges, the immediate reaction of a parent is to find a solution. That comes from a good place but remember the child is not looking for that. They are looking for compassion. Listen from your heart, absorb the information and understand the feeling.
Follow ‘You, Me, And We’ Approach
Dr Sen is of the opinion that neither parents nor mental health professionals can decide what is best for a child. Any decision has to be taken together, in collaboration with the child. For instance, if parents are planning an outing for their child, they should give options like, do you want to go to a park, your friend’s place or to grandmother’s house.
Children, as young as 5 or 6-year-old, might not be able to give words to their thoughts, but they can still choose. If they make a choice, they will feel much more empowered. You can ask the child, ‘what do you think will help you?’ or ‘how can we help you?’ For instance, a child is spending too much time on mobile. Depending on your bond, you can say, ‘I have noticed that when you spend hours on screen, you become lethargic. What do you think about it?’ And then together try to figure out a solution, said Dr Sen.
Do Not Compare, Have Patience
Treatment for any mental illness is a journey and patience is required to reach the destination. In the process, Dr Sen suggests setting small and achievable goals but also being open to changes. For instance, a child wants to learn music as that brings him peace but he might not be able to take classes regularly. Instead of becoming critical of it, say, it’s fine. If it doesn’t work, we will find something else, said Dr Sen.
When children go through emotional difficulties, often its interplay of how they are wired and how the surrounding system is treating them. For instance, during online classes, some children may face huge difficulties focusing. In turn, teachers will complain, parents will come down heavily, and sooner or later, you will realise that child is suffering from an emotional condition or disorder like depression or anxiety. The wiring is about which child can adapt to these new situations and in what way, said Dr Sen.
Disclaimer: This content including advice provides generic information only. It is in no way a substitute for qualified medical opinion. Always consult a specialist or your own doctor for more information. NDTV does not claim responsibility for this information.
If you need support or know someone who does, please reach out to your nearest mental health specialist. Helplines:
AASRA: 91-9820466726 (24 hours)
Sneha Foundation: 91-44-24640050 (Available from 10am to 10pm)
Vandrevala Foundation for Mental Health: 9999666555 (24 hours)
iCall: 022-25521111 (Available from Monday to Saturday: 8:00am to 10:00pm)
Connecting NGO: 9922004305 | 9922001122 (Available from 12 pm – 8 pm)
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