Mental health issues: a child’s potential silent killer?
Confined to four walls, adapting to the unfamiliar work-from-home routine, chasing after mischievous children, perpetual house chores – these are now familiar scenes among working parents, thanks to our extended Covid-19 Circuit Breaker stay-home order. We suddenly find ourselves in unchartered territory. It is no wonder then that more calls are being received by mental health helplines. Besides the fear of contracting the virus, anxiety from the loss of income (and possibly mounting debts) and uncontrollable worries over a bleak future (unlikely due to the absence of McDonald’s and bubble tea), are some of the many mental pressures Singaporeans are going through during this difficult period. And if we as adults are getting uncomfortable with what we are going through, are we therefore paying enough attention to our children on the level of mental discomfort they face?
According to the World Health Organisation, globally, one in six adolescents aged 10 to 19 years old are affected by mental health problems. About 50% of all mental health conditions start by 14 years old (around the Secondary Two level). However, most cases are left undetected and untreated. This can easily lead to depression, a leading cause of illness and disability among this age group. Suicide has also moved up to the third place among the leading causes of death in 15 to 19 year olds. Therefore, if left not addressed, such consequences of adolescent mental health conditions could extend to adulthood, seriously impairing both physical and mental health further, while limiting the opportunities to lead fulfilling lives as adults.
Here are few areas that parents should pay attention to regarding the potential causes of mental health problems among our children or adolescents.
Children and adolescents in Singapore are exposed to high levels of stress. Parents push for academic excellence and young individuals are expected to excel in school. According to the Institute of Mental Health, more teenagers are seeking help for school-related stress. Commonly seen conditions are stress-related, anxiety and depressive disorders. A high stress level may lead to nervous individuals, which could contribute to sleep problems, bad behaviour and may also increase the risk of developing addictive behaviour.
According to a recent survey, 3 in 4 youngsters say that they have been bullied online. This is a growing problem. While cyberbullying may be spreading and rampant, it is underpinned by our culture of silence and inaction. Victims may show signs of a lack of confidence, a preference to be alone and reduced interest in going to school. On the other hand, there is evidence to suggest that some of the victims may turn into bullies themselves. While it is not feasible to stop giving our children access to mobile phones or computers, we as parents could pay more attention to their social responsibility and phone etiquette.
Relationship and acceptance
Comparing that life was simpler one or two generations ago, today’s youngsters are facing new challenges and societal pressures. Adolescents see their social media or digital presence as an extension of their personality. They need to feel accepted not only in real life among their friends, but online as well. But to a young person who may already be feeling anxious and depressed, social media may make it worse. Exclusion on WhatsApp groups, or few followers on Instagram creates rejection, loneliness and marginalisation among these youngsters.
What can we parents do?
The Ministry of Education is adopting a fresh direction on the education system, one with a more “loosened” approach to reduce stress on students. The revamping of the T-score system for wider grade bands, while recognising non-academic abilities and adopting aptitude-based entry to higher institutions, are some of the ways our Singapore education system is evolving to be re-aligned with the definition of learning and the purpose of education.
But are we as parents still setting expectations that may be impossible to fulfil? Echoing the Education Minister, One Ye Kung, “We must remove that do-or-die mentality for every checkpoint, so that even if you don’t do so well, it’s okay.” It is perhaps time for us as parents to learn to adopt a new approach on the definition of learning and education. For example, instead of scolding your child for playing too much, we can perhaps ask him to do some activities with us. Instead of asking about his grades, we can ask him about his interests, his friends and his goals.
The technological evolution and social landscape have continued to shape how we communicate, socialise and interact. As parents, we may be after all, none the wiser about our children’s experiences. Instead of playing the blame game, why not learn to understand their feelings through sincere and honest conversations?
It is undeniable that while a certain level of pressure has the potential to translate into positive motivation, failure to cope with prolonged pressures may be detrimental to the mental hygiene of our children. While they are starting their new chapter in life, it is necessary for us as parents, to accompany them on this journey.
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