Mental illness in children on the increase

In 2003 the World Health Organisation estimates that worldwide up to 20% of children and adolescents had a mental health disorder serious enough to require professional attention. Yet, fewer than one in five received needed treatment.

It is possible that, by 2020, child and adolescent emotional and behavioural disorders could rise proportionately by fifty percent throughout the world to become one of the five most common causes of death, illness and disability among children.

Mental Health problems can affect all families. For adolescents, mental health problems are already as common as physical health problems, such as asthma. Emotional problems which affect children, adolescents, and young people include depression and anxiety disorders, grief, challenging and disruptive behaviours such as conduct disorders and attention deficit hyperactivity, post-traumatic stress, psychosis, eating disorders and suicide.

Seeking help
Families, friends and teachers are often the first to notice changes in young people that may signal an emotional or behavioural problem, but they may be reluctant to talk about them. Families may also be embarrassed about seeking help or may decide to wait, hoping that problems will sort themselves out. For most emotional health problems early help gives the best results. Effective help for children and adolescents during the early stages of an emotional or behavioural problem, just as with a physical illness, generally involves short-term counselling and/or treatment. Treatment is usually based in the local community with as little disruption to school and family life as possible.

Our children and adolescents are our community's most precious resource, and we all have a responsibility to promote and protect their physical, social, educational, and emotional well-being. That includes understanding the toll that emotional and behavioural problems and disorders have on young people and their families, supporting families when children suffer from these disorders, and encouraging our governmental leaders to plan, fund and provide adequate and appropriate services for children and their families.

For a referral to a suitable mental health resource contact the Mental Health Information Centre at (021) 938-9229.

(Ilse Pauw,Health24, October 2003)

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