Recently, child and adolescent mental health have been increasingly discussed. The scale and degree of mental problems faced by teenagers are alarming. Journalists, doctors, and parents are drawn to the increasing number of suicide attempts by children and adolescents, the poor conditions and inadequate care in 24-hour psychiatric wards, long waits for psychiatric appointments, and the lack of extensive prevention programs.
The mental health of children and adolescents is currently among the most important issues being dealt with by specialists in various fields. The topic is also of interest to politicians around the world. The results of analyses leave no doubt that the mental health of the youngest is steadily deteriorating and that the health care situation and the support system leave much to be desired.
Experts stress that mental health is worked on from the earliest years of life. This can be seen in neonatal wards. Mom's contact with the premature baby, from the very beginning, talking to him, singing to him, is extremely important not only for the development of closeness but also for the development of language. Along with language, thinking, and recognition of one's own emotions develop, which later translates into the young person's mental functioning.
It is important to remember that mental health changes over the life cycle. The WHO emphasizes the early stages of life and states that up to 50% of mental disorders present in adults begin before the age of 14. Children and adolescents are therefore a target group that should be specifically addressed with prevention measures that allow early intervention in the community; institutionalization and drug treatment should be avoided.
In 2016, all EU countries reported progress in promotion and prevention efforts. In the vast majority of EU Member States (almost 95%), mental health support in schools is a priority in the prevention of mental illness. Long-term benefits include improved academic performance, greater resilience, and better cognitive skills, as well as increased social competence and more effective coping with difficulties.
UNICEF points out, that taking early action to support children and caregivers is the best investment that can be made to promote good mental health, prevent mental health crises, und zur and respond to the complex psychosocial issues facing the world's youngest.
A 2018 report by the European Network of Child Advocates came up with a definition of mental health similar to that proposed by the WHO: "Mental health is a state of well-being in which everyone realizes their potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, work productively and fruitfully, and can contribute to their community." This means that mental health is not only the absence of disease but also a state of emotional well-being. It's also the resources, skills, and competencies that help you achieve your goals and meet your needs. They make it possible to cope with difficult situations and protect against mental breakdowns in moments of crisis. They allow one to derive joy and satisfaction from life and push one to develop and establish positive social relationships.
The scale and degree of mental health problems among adolescents in Europe are alarming. Suicide is the second most common cause of death among young people in Europe. More children aged 15 to 19 die only from traffic accidents. UNICEF has prepared an analysis of the mental health situation of children in Europe and the trends affecting their well-being. Disturbing data on the stress experienced by teenagers has prompted UNICEF to issue recommendations to governments across Europe and the institutions of the European Union. According to the report, 19% of boys in Europe between the ages of 15 and 19 suffer from mental health disorders. Among girls, the figure is more than 16%. Moreover, nine million adolescents in Europe (children aged 10 to 19) are living with a mental disorder. Depression and anxiety disorders account for more than half of the cases. The authors of the publication point out that the annual loss of human capital in Europe due to general mental disorders in children under the age of 19 is as much as 50 billion euros.
It is not at all easy to recognize whether a child or teenager has just been in a mental crisis. A child in a mental crisis, such as suicide, is not always a child who is sad, crying, and without energy. Often this crisis is masked. Then its sign can be anxiety, aggression, self-aggression, or truancy. Experts stress that nearly 90 percent of suicidal behavior in children and adolescents. It is typical for the child and adolescent population to experience developmental crises, crisis of adolescence, and adolescence. Among other things, a young person faces struggles for his or her autonomy, frustration caused by restrictions on his or her rights (including the right to decide for himself or herself), and many other problems that can make him or her feel unattractive, inferior, or rejected. Such a child or teenager, unable to cope, often cries out for help in dramatic ways. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for him or her to receive no support from either the family or the school.
The onset of a mental disorder usually does not have a single cause but is caused by many co-occurring factors, among which we can distinguish biological conditions, such as temperament or genetic predisposition, and psychosocial factors, which include the influence of family, school, and peer relationships. Often before the onset of a disorder, there is a triggering factor, that is, an event that immediately precedes the appearance of symptoms of the disease.
It can be seen that two people in a similar crisis may react quite differently. In one, daily functioning will be disrupted, while the other person will be doing very well despite the difficulties that have befallen him. Such good functioning, despite adversity and traumatic experiences, is related to mental resilience and the presence of protective factors supporting the person.
Mental health depends on several interrelated factors: genetic, biological, familial, and social. However, two other aspects are also worth discussing - experiencing excessive stress, especially school stress, and the impact of abuse. In recent years, the percentage of children and adolescents who experience severe school-related stress has increased significantly. According to data from the recent 2018 Health Behaviour in School-age Children (HBSC) survey, more than two-fifths of students surveyed feel high or very high levels of school stress.
Also, the experience of childhood abuse or other negative events significantly increases the risk of mental health disorders. Just as many intersecting risk factors can impair the mental health of young people, many protective factors can be strengthened to reduce the risk of mental health problems.
The Corona-pandemic was an extremely difficult time for all of us, both adults and children and adolescents. The young discovered emotions they hadn't known before - they couldn't plan anything, they lived from day to day, and they didn't know what the next day would bring. In terms of mental health, children, adolescents, and young adults have suffered far more than the general population, according to a recent report by the OECD and the European Commission.
In the report"Health at a Glance. Europe 2022", it's stated that before the pandemic, the mental health of young Europeans were already not good: in 2019, problems of various kinds were present in an average of more than 17 percent of 15-29-year-olds.
The pandemic and the safety measures taken to stem the tide of infection have unprecedentedly worsened the mental health of young Europeans virtually across the continent. The proportion of young people with depressive symptoms has more than doubled in many countries. Similar proportions exist when it comes to anxiety - here, too, the percentage of young people has increased significantly, even more than doubling in some countries. Not all symptoms can be classified, and some people simply have a deterioration of their mental condition, even if it can hardly be considered depression or anxiety - studies in many countries, including Germany and the Netherlands, have shown a huge, at least tens of percent increase in the percentage of children and adolescents declaring poor mental health. There is irrefutable evidence that the mental health of young people deteriorated during the pandemic disproportionately to the population as a whole. In virtually all European countries for which data are available, young people were and are significantly more likely to report mental health problems than older age groups.
Needs have skyrocketed, while supply has deteriorated significantly. Particularly during the first period of the pandemic, access to traditional treatment pathways and psychological care was hampered and, in some areas, even interrupted. Prevention has also been disrupted, since it is in schools, in virtually all countries, that the primary programs for preventing youth mental problems are implemented. The WHO said in the summer of 2020 that the pandemic had completely or partially destroyed or interrupted three-quarters of school mental health programs globally.
But that's not all, for obvious reasons during the first lockdown, in-person visits were virtually ruled out, outpatient care moved largely online, with hospital treatment treated as a last resort. A 2020 WHO study found that nearly 40 percent of European countries reported disruption of at least 75 percent of services/interventions for mental health, neurological, and substance abuse problems, and globally, more than 70 percent of services for children and adolescents were partially or completely disrupted.
Meanwhile, the demand for psychological and psychiatric care has been and continues to be enormous, and is putting health systems to a huge test. In France, from January to September 2022, the weekly number of emergency visits for suicidal thoughts among young people (aged 15-24) was higher than in previous years of the pandemic and in some weeks even three or four times higher than before the pandemic.
Waiting times for psychological help have increased tremendously - including in countries where queuing was generally not a problem. The latest figures from Finland show that right now (September 2022) 40 percent of children and adolescents have to wait longer than 90 days (in cases classified as non-urgent) for specialized psychiatric help.
Also of concern is the high percentage of young Europeans whose mental health needs are unmet: in the spring of 2021, the problem affected more than half (53 percent) of the population aged 18-29; at the moment, it is only slightly lower (49 percent). Among adults in general, the percentage is currently 23 percent.
The COVID-19 pandemic has further highlighted shortcomings and gaps in psychiatric and psychological care. The report published by UNICEF makes it clear that we will be grappling with the impact of the pandemic on the mental health of children and adolescents for a long time to come.
The protective factors in a child's lifemust outweigh the risk factors present.One of the key things supporting a young person is the relationship with loved ones. The child must have at least one parent who fulfills his or her parental responsibilities well, provides a sense of security and stability, can listen, provide support, and also sets limits and monitors the child's behavior.
Another group of supporting factors is the individual characteristics and abilities of the child.Good cognitive functioning, the ability to self-control impulsive behavior and emotions, a positive self-image, self-esteem, and self-acceptance help to cope with difficult situations and significantly affect mental resilience. These traits can be fostered through interactions both in the family environment and at school through psycho-educational, remedial, educational, and therapeutic activities.
Also strongly supportive is a positive school climate, i.e. creating a place where the child wants to go, where he feels safe. It is important to have the support of teachers, to be able to talk to them, and to have access to psychological and pedagogical assistance. This is especially important when a child does not have a secure relationship in the family home. Also important is a sense of belonging to the school environment and a bond with the school and teachers, as well as high-quality teaching.
Also, a protective factor is the supportive non-family environment and resources of the place where the child lives, are youth clubs, participation in extracurricular activities, and access to sports and recreation centers, clubs, or counseling centers. The importance of positive peer relationships also increases with age. A supportive group of peers is a mirror for a young person in which he or she can view themselves, test their social competence, learn to resolve conflicts and search for their identity.
It's also worth remembering the importance of taking care of mental health. Taking care of daily healthy habits keeps you feeling good and is a protective factor.
Emotional Training of the LUMEUS app is one of those daily habits that teach children how to control their emotions themselves and how to cope with previously uncomfortable situations. Feelings such as love and security arise within oneself and one can control them. And children should learn this at a young age. With LUMEUS we can give children a positive start to the day, a calm and relaxed sleep, or give them tools to learn to better deal with their emotions. Only 10 to 15 minutes of daily training help children, reduce stress, restlessness, depressive moods, and fears and transform them into happiness, security, and peace.
Also, the quality of sleep is important. Sleep is the time when our body can regenerate, so not only its length but also its quality is important. The optimal length of sleep is 6 to 8 hours.For it to have the desired effect, it is important to have regular hours of falling asleep and getting up and to avoid contact with screens at least two hours before bedtime. Sleep deprivation or poor quality sleep causes irritability, weakness, and poorer resistance to stress. Our LUMEUS App can also help with that. Our Emotional Sleep Training offers exercises for relaxation and peacefulness and sleep harmonies for calmness, serenity, and peaceful sleep.
So let's remember that we have a say in building our own and our children's and wards' mental resilience. If we want guidance on how to prevent mental disorders in children and adolescents, let's direct our questions to specialists in this field. Prevention is better than cure.