October 10th was International Mental Health Awareness Day and as this week comes to an end I want to draw attention to another aspect of mental health that is just as worrisome – Childhood Depression. Sounds preposterous? Have a look at these facts and figures – According to a Mental Health report released by WHO earlier this year, nearly 25 percent adolescents were ‘depressed’ and 11 percent were ‘distracted’ and had a hard time staying focused on their work. Studies have also shown that depression in childhood increases the risk of addiction in later life. The surprising part is that it’s not only adolescents, but even children as young as 6 or 7 years old who are now falling prey to this silent perpetrator.
What happened to the days of carefree youth and golden childhood? Why are our children facing these risks which we could never even imagine? How can we imagine that our little tykes can ever be victims of depression? It is inconceivable for most of us. Most of us will even go as far as to believe that OUR kids are not among these unfortunate ones. One has to understand that depression can touch anyone – from any age group, any economic class. Experts say reasons for depression are often very mundane and something that will not even catch our notice. I was shocked to hear that a 13 year old child in Chennai committed suicide because he could not complete his vacation homework. I was speechless. How many times have I reprimanded my child for not paying enough attention to his homework?
What to look for?
According to experts signs for depression should ideally be very easy to read –
- Desire to spend unhealthy amount of time alone
- Being in a constant state of distraction
- Loss of interest in usual activities
- Loss of appetite
- Low energy
However, when parents of teens do see these signs in their children they often attribute it to changing hormones and teenage mood swings. There is also the fear of being over protective and breaching their privacy. So parents may often let these signals go without really giving them too much importance. In today’s age of easy internet access one needs to understand that while these mood swings and distractions due to teenage problems are common, the way to deal with them has changed. Kids now have access to a whole lot of other people’s opinions and coping mechanisms through the internet. A teenage problem of heartbreak or classroom bullying may seem easy enough to solve for a parent, but for a child it is the end of life as they know it.
11 year old Raghav was bullied in his school bus everyday and had formed his own defence mechanism to deal with it. The bus conductor complained of Raghav’s misbehaviour and constant fights to his mother almost every week. His mother would scold him and even gave him the ultimatum that she did not want to hear of any more complaints. Gradually the complaints stopped, Raghav was now a model child, who would sit in the front part of the bus and would not interact with other kids, hence leading to no fights. Other kids also left him alone. What none of them saw was that Raghav was fighting a slow war within himself to gain social acceptance among his peers and was slowly losing. When the complaints stopped his mother was happy that now her son was a ‘good boy’, but in being a ‘good boy’ Raghav was killing his inner self who wanted justice against those who had bullied him.
How can we help?
As parents of this generation it is true that we are often torn between the old age parenting style adopted by our parents (mostly authoritative) and the new age parenting style (more inclusive). We don’t know whether to scold our children for their misbehaviours or to talk to them at length. The age old saying “Bachpan me ek thapad lagaya hota toh aaj ye din nahi dekhna padta’ (one tight slap in childhood could have prevented this) is so scary to even imagine now. Most of us are even guilty of spanking our kids when they absolutely disobey and then feeling miserable about it. But we have to realise that kids today are not the same.
The environment in which they are growing is dynamic and very confusing. They don’t know how to protect themselves from temptation and rising peer pressure. We have to develop a relationship with them where they can feel safe to open up. This does not mean that parents shadow their children and one parent should be available to them at all times. However we need to ensure that the children know and believe that they are most important to us and we are available to them whenever they need us. This can be achieved by creating a culture of spending meaningful quality family time . Another important factor that can help is by being involved in the child’s life. Be in touch with their teachers, and friends. These help detect signs early and seek help in time. Also the pressure to multi-task is so high these days that children feel to excel in all areas of life. Let your child pick up any one activity if that is what they want to do. Not all children are alike. Some kids do have the ability to handle the pressure of conducting multiple classes in a week and keeping a healthy competitive balance at all of them, but not all. Accept that it is okay to be mono-tasking. If your child goes for only one activity in a week, it’s alright.
While we cannot change the pace at which the world is changing, we must accept it and equip our children to deal with the ever competitive world that they are growing in. Most of all, if we see signs of trouble, let’s not sweep it under the carpet, let’s seek help for the sake of our children.
This week I have stayed away from the chosen theme
Other posts from this challenge are
October 10th is World Mental Health Day