“There should have been angels of acceptance,
this ocean of dejection realise,
that his speech system,
is merely not able to match up,
to his overtly fast brain,
processing thoughts at,
the speed of light.”
The above is an excerpt of a poem written by a student who had been bullied in school for
stuttering in childhood and is a representative of how unacceptance of the above pupil’s
predicament has affected the person’s subjective experiences which were often laced with
anguish, fear, and dejection.
World Children’s Day is celebrated every year on the 20th of November by the United
Nations Organization to raise awareness of children’s rights and to improve their welfare
across the world. The theme for this year’s World Children’s Day is “A Better Future for
Children around the world are considered as a beacon of hope; a symbol of honesty,
prosperity, and innocence. They are indeed the future of mankind as the baton of humanity
passes down from each generation to the next, as they learn from the environment and later
go on to represent our species as adults. Hence, children are cared for and protected by their
families and society and their health is often the priority of their environment.
However, do they always benefit from the socially privileged status that has been conferred
onto them? Well, they seldom do. Children across the world, especially those living in the
third-world countries of sub-Saharan Africa often face sexual exploitation, malnutrition, child
labor, lack of access to education, are exposed to infectious diseases (Ingutia, Rezitis &
Sumelius, 2020). It is often considered that even children who are from well-to-do families
are relatively unscathed and they have a much higher standard of living. But, that is not true.
Children who come from better societies indeed have more resources and opportunities for
children to develop a safer environment to learn than those who are less privileged. But,
problems of mental health are also often overlooked even in very rich neighborhoods.
Disorders like anxiety, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism spectrum
disorder, depression, and other mood disorders, eating disorders, and post-traumatic stress
disorder (PTSD) often hinder the realization of a child’s true potential without discriminating
on the basis of the socio-economic status of children. However, children from well-to-do
families often have access to resources that can help improve mental health, wheras children
with mental health problems hailing from poor families seldom have the resources to help
improve their mental well-being.
According to the WHO, more than 1 in 7 adolescents aged 10–19 is estimated to live with a
diagnosed mental disorder globally, with South Asia being one of the most affected. Also,
another report by the WHO has shown that the prevalence of suicide is 21.1/100,000
population in India which is amongst the highest in Asia, with the number being
predominantly contributed by adolescents.
This is due to the cut-throat and unhealthy competition imposed on the students in the form of
competitive examinations like the IIT-JEE and NEET, which is also influenced by parental,
environmental, and peer pressures, and also due to the evils of the education system in India
and capitalism in the form of coaching institutes as they continue to rake in profits by selling
the prospects of better job opportunities and then subjecting them to inhumane, treacherous
routines, thus treating the students as if they were computers tasked with cracking
competitive exams. Also, parental pressure to perform well in these entrance exams may be
another cause for their deteriorating mental health.
Parents are considered to be the first line of support for children. Hence, they have a vital role
to play in their children’s mental health. It is due to this reason that bad parenting habits are
big risk factors for children. For example, being emotionally unavailable, reprimanding too
much for childrens’ mistakes, use of corporal punishment, not respecting their feelings and
too much pampering, etc., are some of the ways which affect the subjective experience of the
child and may lead to them committing to problem behaviors.
It is also worth noting that poor parenting habits can be passed on to children. A study was
conducted by Anne-Marie Conn and colleagues, involving parents of 62 young children who
were attending a clinic to find out how their own childhoods have shaped their parenting
practices. It was found that “91 percent of parents had at least one adverse childhood
experience, while 45 percent had four or more, and among their young children, 72 percent
had already experienced at least one adverse childhood experience” (Conn et al, 2016). This
is problematic as this may lead to a perpetual succession of bad parenting, a chain that needs
to be broken to secure the mental health of the family.
This also includes other problems faced by children where they’re not accepted by society
and are often mocked at and deprived of the help that they require in their development. This
includes students having speech and hearing problems, learning and conduct disorders,
obesity, students who identify themselves as having a non-binary gender, or being adopted,
etc. The lack of social acceptance being shown in the form of bullying and cyber-bullying,
racial or caste discrimination, fat-shaming and so on is often detrimental to the child’s
development and can have serious consequences as the scars of their subjective experiences
often show up in the form of mental health issues as behavioral problems and insecure
attachment, and may also lead to substance abuse.
Biological and genetic factors can also cause mental illness. The imbalance of
neurotransmitters can also cause mental health disorders like schizophrenia, OCD, panic
attacks, and other mental health disorders. Also, genetic factors go a long way in predicting
the likelihood of a person having similar mental health issues, although genetics merely
predicts the occurrence and doesn’t necessarily imply that a person would be affected by a
disorder. Other biological factors that cause mental illness include infections, brain damage,
prenatal damage, and substance abuse.
All this is also not helped by the fact that there is a dearth of mental health infrastructure in
India with there being only 0.75 psychiatrists per 100,000 population in India, which is way
below the desired requirement of 3 psychiatrists per 100,000 population. Also, there were just
0.15 psychologists available per 100,000 individuals in 2017. This is also not helped by the
fact that India had spent 1.3% of its gross domestic product (GDP) in 2015-16 on healthcare
with around 0.05% of this healthcare budget on mental health.
With the deficit of mental health facilities being so substantial and with the access to
institutions for mental health being very scarce, treatment gaps are also obvious. The
treatment gap in mental health is about 50%–60% for schizophrenia, 88% for depression,
97.2% for substance abuse, and 22%–95% for seizure disorders. The treatment gap for
common mental disorders is 95% which is higher than the gap in severe disorders which is
76%. This doesn’t include the fact that often mental health disorders often go undiagnosed,
especially in rural areas. This is worsened by the stigma associated with and subsequent
neglect that is faced by individuals who face mental health problems. (Hossain & Purohit,
This problem is now exacerbated ever since the Covid-19 pandemic has struck globally,
resulting in global chaos. Due to this, one in every seven children has been directly affected
by lockdowns, while more than 1.6 billion children have suffered some loss of education. The
loss of jobs, concern for the health of family members, lack of face-to-face interaction,
recreation and so on also have the potential to threaten the mental health of students
indirectly. Also, uncertainties in the form of wars and instability of countries have a big role
in adversely affecting the mental health of children across the globe.
However, with these problems, we can also focus on solutions that can positively bring about
a change in these dangerous trends. Firstly, the most important changes can be brought at
home. Parents can seek to improve the mental health of children in many ways. This includes
modeling, positive interactions with children in the form of spending quality time with them.
Hence, building trust to ensure that children exhibit a secure attachment with them. Also, the
use of an assertive parenting style and a clear definition of boundaries are key to healthy
parenting, which in turn ensures the positive mental health of children.
Also, reduction of other risk factors and promotion of the protective factors for children and
adults in the form of greater acceptance of their identities and emotional rapport from other
family members, friends, and environment would go a long way in preventing the occurrence
of mental health complications later in life. Thus, making the environment empathetic and
optimal for the development of the children and adolescents. It is also important to emphasize
that stigmatization of mental health must be avoided at all levels – family, friends, elders, and
society. Hence, stakeholders who are a part of the immediate environment of children and
adolescents must encourage and empower them to seek professional help for mental health
issues if required.
At the institutional level, greater access to mental health facilities needs to be ensured by
building more tertiary health care centers in India that specialize in mental health, especially
for children and adolescents. Another important solution would be the integration of child
and adolescent mental health services in primary health care.
Also, changes should be made to ensure the availability and accessibility of necessary
services and resources in both urban and rural areas for equitable distribution of mental health
services. Campaigns for promoting mental health in the community and district levels are
also important to bring an end to the stigmatization of people who have been affected with
mental health disorders.
Another important solution would be to involve students in the study of mental health from a
very early age, preferably from the middle or even elementary school to introduce students to
the concept of mental health. This would go a long way in helping children and adolescents
identify and recognize mental health problems and also how to seek help if they find
themselves entangled in the same too.
Furthermore, counseling of teachers and training them how to effectively deal with students
and to identify problematic behaviors and their causes and educating them how to be
empathetic to students who are behind the learning curve, have behavioral problems, etc.
would also help in the positive development of students. In addition to this, changes should
be brought about in the education system in the form of greater focus on the overall well-
being of children rather than continuing with obsolete methods of instruction which are
ineffective in securing the students’ needs and subsequently their well-being.
Finally, children and adolescents should be allowed to actively participate in the decision-
making process of improving their mental health individually and collectively. This also
involves giving them the freedom to make their own choice with regards to their education,
career choice, and future.
The state of mental health for children across the world is indeed really depressing as many
children across the world face harsh environments, inconducive to their growth. It is also sad
that other issues faced by children are often given importance but mental health is often
overlooked. However, there is hope as organizations across the world, of late, have
recognized the importance of mental health and are slowly bringing a change to the current
state of affairs.
With an increasing push for awareness and education about the importance of mental health,
we hope that every child’s mental health problems are attended to without exception, thus
ensuring a better future for every child and an even brighter future for the whole of mankind.
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• Saurav Das is a student currently doing his undergraduate degree in Psychology from
MCHP, MAHE, Manipal. He loves participating in various extra-curricular activities,
which also includes activities that promote awareness for mental health. He is also
very passionate about literature and he writes poems and short-stories. His works have
been published on his social media accounts.
• Tejas Girish Kulkarni is a student currently doing his undergraduate degree in
Audiology and Speech Language Pathology (BASLP) from MCHP, MAHE. He too
writes poems, many of which are posted on his social media accounts. The poem in
this article is contributed by him. He champions the cause of speech language
pathology by furthering awareness about the subject through his participation in
various extra-curricular activities.
• Dr. Deepa Marina Rasquinha is an Assistant Professor in the department of Clinical
Psychology, MCHP, MAHE, Manipal. She has a vast experience of 17 years where
she had been involved in research, teaching and counselling. She specializes in
Gerontology. She is an avid writer whose works have been published in print and
electronic media to create awareness about mental health via its diverse dimensions.
• Dr. Kavyashree K. B. is an Assistant Professor in the department of Clinical
Psychology, MCHP, MAHE, Manipal. She has a rich experience of 15 years which
was devoted to counselling, research and teaching. She specializes in Adolescent
Psychology. She is also an ardent writer as her writings have been published in
various journals via print and electronic media.