Mental Health: Wellbeing and Happiness Series with MoNya-Mental
By Psychotherapist Mertha Mo Nyamande
Most of you will now be aware of this running series in the Sunday Express, and how we are trying to demystify wellness, mental being and how the subject matter is understood throughout the world, and especially in the Zimbabwean and African sub-context
What is Child Mental Health?
Children’s mental health is characterized and presents with what is referred to as spectrum disorders; the likes of Attention Deficit Disorders (ADD) or Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD), Autism and eating problems in early adolescence.
Children are not ordinarily diagnosed with any other mental disorders until past the age of 16 or 18 depending on where on the planet one is.
The reason for this is that children are learners and often still have the capacity to learn better coping techniques.
The meaning of ADD/ADHD and Autism actually is in the name; that a child lacks or has lacked attention (attention deficit) at a much needed stage of their life, and therefore struggle to hold attention. This usually occurs in the first 18 months of life as per Freud or Erikson’s life stages.
This is often not deliberate on the parent, but may be due to other complications like Post Natal/Partum Depression, physical health problems or generally overwhelmed by other activities.
Or generally the child feeling displaced by the arrival of another before certain stages are satisfied. As a result, they display certain behaviours to try and satisfy the unmet need.
The eating component is often about control, where they see eating as the only aspect they have control over.
The dilemma is that as we are creatures of a habit, we don’t often see our own problematic behaviours towards the child as limiting, and when the child expresses themselves or rebels with these extreme behaviours, we place all the blame and such labels on the child.
As such those that display inability to pay attention or concentrate as normally expected of a child or a similar age for a protracted period will likely receive a diagnosis of ADD, and those displaying additional hyperactivity will attract the ADHD label.
There are others that retreat inwards to some small corner of their brain where they feel safer, with basic routines and limited interaction and these attract the Autism.
Such has also been attributed to the administration of certain vaccines, like MMR.
According to the life stages, if a child, any child goes through these stages without satisfying them as provided by “good enough” parenting, they are left frustrated but each child responds differently to this neglect.
The earliest stage is about establishing trusting relationships and if a child struggles with this process, this is often when these traits and behaviors start to develop.
This also applies to subsequent stages, and the more problematic the progression, the more likely to struggle the individual becomes. Essentially children learn from their environments – “charity begins at home”.
The dilemma is that these people do not remain children, they grow into adults and likely to repeat the same patterns with their own families if not overcompensate, thereby perpetuating the same vicious cycle, not only limited to spectrum disorders, but mood and anxiety complications.
The African child in particular quickly learns to internalize its frustrations due to the oppressive and abusive nature and dynamics of the society that punishes the learning instead of encouraging and supporting it.
The resulting resignation, aggression and/or antagonism over the formative years comes out in other places impacting its work life, productivity and contribution to the sustainable development of its community.
So whatever issues we see in adults, they would have been nurtured throughout childhood as misunderstood, ignored or simply not addressed with the usual “s/he’ll grow out of it” rhetoric. All this chaos is inevitably consolidated at adolescence – the most difficult transition where a certain identity is assumed as a result.
Will explore identity Disorders in detail in the next episode.
The medical model isolates the problem to the child and seeks to medicate the child with the likes of Ritalin and other psychoactive substances for such volatile organs.
This is while a more exhaustive biopsychosocial assessment from a family/systemic or community psychology perspective would shed better light, provide a more informative and productive nature and lasting remedy to whatever presented problem.
This isolative nature of the medical model leaves the child as the problem in both the home environment and in the playground, thereby further isolating his/her learning and socialization. This makes them stand out and more prone to bullying from other children as a “misfit” or just different, if not weird.
Remedies and recommendations
Children do not only require food, clothes and shelter, they also require cuddles, smiles and reassurances or feedback on how they are progressing to make them feel validated by their parents and peers as well as a good balance of support and challenge to enable and empower them through skills training which builds their self-esteem and confidence.
They also need to play, where they learn to set boundaries with their peers through playfighting, etc, processes they are not able to fulfil with only adults in the home or environments.
They also learn some habits and fears of their parents as their own as every child wants to emulate its parents for continuity.
Failure to satisfy these needs will not halt their growth, but they simply learn to cope and normalize their lack/loss.
Orphaned children and or those in single parented households should also be provided additional counselling therapy to understand their losses during the formative years.
Ideally, and in the interest of development, we should remove the medical model for mental health in general as recognized by the change from Mental Illness (MI) to Mental Disorder (MD) in 2007 and eliminate children’s mental health services in favour of family support services with parenting skills so that children are afforded provided better resources through the family and school institutions in order to address the issues affecting them as learners of life.
What could it be that they are learning or not, that is leaving them so distraught to this magnitude?
Mertha Mo Nyamande @InsightWellbeing Ltd #Monya-Mental February 2021. Feedback firstname.lastname@example.org
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