Dubai, UAE: Parents must keep a close eye on their children’s mental well-being and seek treatment for them if they notice anything wrong, experts say.
Psychiatrists warned that changes in behaviour can be early signs of mental illness.
If a child is under stress or has suffered trauma they do not have years of experience or coping strategies to fall back on, said Dr Tara Wyne, a clinical psychologist at Lighthouse Arabia clinic.
“Often parents wait for their children to come to them for help but unless they are very mature, children don’t think about their own feelings.”
As a child’s brain is developing, a youngster may not be aware of mental issues or ask for support.
“One of the key tasks of parents is to be attuned and notice changes in your child’s behaviour and have a gentle curiosity to explore the reasons for these changes,” Dr Wyne advised. Symptoms include problems with sleep, acting out of character, anxiety, disruptive behaviour at, or not wanting to go to, school, she said.
Dr Saliha Afridi, a clinical psychologist and managing director of Lighthouse Arabia, said many children in the UAE suffered from anxiety-related issues.
“Children are either changing homes or schools and this brings with it new neighbours and friends,” she said.
“In the child’s mind, it can be quite an unstable landscape.”
Keeping an eye on behavioural changes in a child was key.
“You know your child. If they are acting even a little bit differently you need to look into it. It could be that they are being bullied at school or that they’re anxious about something,” Dr Afridi said.
“When we work with adults and children we notice that they don’t know basic information like how much sleep they need or for how long should they use social media or gadgets.”
Carey Kirk, a psychological counsellor, noted many children were often overworked, with pressure on them to undertake extra-curricular activities. This meant they did not have time to have fun, which can lead to depression and anxiety.
She often goes to schools to speak to children about mental health issues.
“Whenever awareness and education go up, stigma goes down as that’s what education combats.”
Ross and Lisa Barfoot-Smith know too well the devastating effects that mental illness can have on teenagers after their 15-year-old, Louis, committed suicide two years ago.
The British couple are trying to set up a charity, the Louis Smith Foundation, to provide support for teenagers struggling with depression and anxiety disorders.
“The challenge here is that there is no first point of call,” said Ms Barfoot-Smith, who noted in her home country that there are anonymous helplines for children to call.
“A lot of people just need someone to talk to.”
She believed parents should not be afraid to speak to their children if they showed signs of mental illness.
“Louis did not leave a note. There were signs to for us to look out for as his sleep pattern or eating habits did not change,” she said.
“If there was a helpline, Louis might have called it. He may have talked to someone anonymously and that service is all that we wish to provide.”
© The NationalNov 2015