QF’s global health initiative sees experts explore mental health challenges for children and adolescents
Mental health issues have increased significantly among children and adolescents since the emergence of COVID-19, said experts during a World Innovation Summit for Health (WISH) 2020 panel, with many communities all over the word lacking the necessary resources, programs, and interventions to manage the knock-on effects of the pandemic.
In past decades, Qatar’s health sector had undergone a significant expansion to provide a range of high quality healthcare services that address mental health in general…
During the session, panelists shed light on the main challenges and gaps in the mental health system for children and adolescents – particularly in Qatar – what needs to be done to advance services, and how to spread awareness on the early signs of mental health issues among the community, as well as how and when to intervene.
Dr. Sanaa Al Harahsheh, Senior Associate of Research & Policy at WISH, said: “In past decades, Qatar’s health sector had undergone a significant expansion to provide a range of high quality healthcare services that address mental health in general, and although children and adolescents mental health services lacked behind in comparison to adults, it has transitioned to a new level.”
Dr. Samya Al Abdulla, Senior Consultant of Family Medicine and Executive Director of Operations at the Primary Health Care Corporation, highlighted the challenges facing children and adolescents mental health globally.
“One of the biggest challenges this sector is facing within healthcare is being understaffed, we have insufficiency in mental health professions who have the skills to perform assessment, diagnosis, and management of such mental health conditions.”
“Secondly, the challenge of stigmatization and shaming related to mental health problems – whether in schools or socially. We need to find effective approaches to tackle and overcome this behavior in the community.
“Thirdly, more efforts need to be made on data and research in this area. Also, there is a lack of monitoring and evaluation systems, which create barriers to finding the gaps for mental health issues among children and adolescents; and a lack of public awareness within families and schools; internet accessibility; and an excessive use of technology.”
According to a recent study done by Northwestern University in Qatar, the use of technology among children exceeds 34 hours a week, leading to disorders like depression, anxiety, loneliness, bullying, and self-harm, said Dr. Al Abdulla.
So, identifying the disorder, having the right intervention at an early stage and referring to the right resources is key for treatment
Dr. Hassan Nazeer, Division Chief, Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at Sidra Medicine, also highlighted the goals of the “Are you OK?” awareness campaign, which was launched recently by Sidra Medicine and the Ministry of Public Health.
“What we are seeking to achieve through this campaign is to educate people about some of the very basic symptoms of stress and depression, to look for any red flags, and start a conversation at the right time, in the right way.
He also highlighted the importance gaining a child’s trust, which encourages the individual to open up and speak about their feelings, and how a parent should handle their emotions and find the best way to look for help.
“We think that this campaign is a great step, and a culturally appropriate way to fight stigmatization –which represents a challenge for children and adolescents’ mental health,” Dr. Nazeer said.
The panelists also highlighted the importance identifying mental health issues early, working on prevention rather than treatment.
Dr. Nazeer said: “About 50 to 60 percent of mental health disorders occur before 14 years of age and if they are not treated early with the right interventions and modalities, many of these children grow up to carry this baggage, which can confuse their sense of who they are in the world.”
“So, identifying the disorder, having the right intervention at an early stage and referring to the right resources is key for treatment, because as Frederick Douglass said: ‘It’s easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.’”