Monday, January 06, 2014

20pc of children are depressed

KUALA LUMPUR: THE number of children with poor mental health is rising,   with 20 per cent found to be suffering from stress, anxiety and depression in the latest National Health Morbidity Survey (NHMS).
The survey, conducted in 2011, said there were more children aged between 5 and 15 suffering from mental health issues or were prone to mental disorders, compared with the number from the NHMS conducted in 2006.
Deputy director-general of Health (Public Health) Datuk Dr Lokman Hakim Sulaiman told the New Straits Times the NHMS revealed that the figure stood at 13 per cent in 1996.
"It was at 19.4 per cent in 2006 and reached 20 per cent in 2011.
"Stress, anxiety and depression are the common mental health conditions from which students suffer.
"Some also suffer from schizo-phrenia, a severe form of mental illness."
The NHMS used to be conducted every 10 years, but has been held every five years since 2006.
Dr Lokman said the Healthy Mind Programme survey conducted last year revealed seven per cent of 19,919 Form Four students from 157 schools showed signs of severe and extremely severe stress, anxiety and depression.
The mental health screening was carried out based on the Depression, Anxiety and Stress Scale, where students answered a set of questionnaires.
The growing number has compelled the authorities to extend the screening programme in schools to cover Forms Two to Five students. Previously, it only covered Form Four students.
Dr Lokman said poor mental health could be the result of pressure on students from the high expectations of parents and teachers in academic excellence and individual personality, as well as social, family and interpersonal problems.
"Mental health problems cause major changes in a person's thinking, emotional state and behaviour, and disrupt the person's ability to work and carry on with personal relationships.
"Children and adolescents are assets to the nation's development.
"To achieve maximum potential, students have to develop self-identity, good self-esteem and be ready to accept life challenges in preparation for adulthood."
Poor mental health, he said, could be identified through emotional and behavioural symptoms.
"Students with poor mental health have low self-esteem, suffer from sadness or restlessness, show poor performance in school and have relationship problems.
"There are also mental and behavioural problems, like truancy, bullying, vandalism, substance abuse, tendency to self-harm and suicidal behaviour, that are tell-tale signs."
Dr Lokman said there were resources to support students who had poor mental health, including counselling and psychological and social service programmes by schools.
"For example, the Education Ministry has a school counsellor to student ratio of 1:500.
"It also has a referral system to health facilities."
He said schools should incorporate the Healthy Mind Policy in the existing school policy and conduct the Mental Health Awareness Week programme, which would see the participation of parent-teacher associations.
"Schools should provide social support to children through peer education groups and occasionally conduct courses on parenting skills."
On why the screening programme was not extended to cover all primary school pupils and secondary school students, Dr Lokman said the screening tools available were only suitable for those between 13 and 17.
"For primary schools, mental health promotion activities are carried out through other programmes, such as 'Pembimbing Rakan Sebaya'."
Dr Lokman said the Health Ministry would train more school counsellors and healthcare providers to detect early symptoms of mental health problems and suicidal behaviour.
He stressed that family and good parenting played a vital role in helping children and adolescents deal with mental health issues.
"This is because conflicts between parents and in the family environment, domestic violence and physical, emotional or sexual abuse can cause mental and emotional disturbances."
On Dec 13, Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr S. Subramaniam said school counsellors would be given extra training to increase their expertise in counselling students to tackle mental health problems.

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