Children's mental health needs proper attention: health expert

April 21, 2022 - 08:07
Professor Nguyễn Thanh Liêm, former Director of the National Children's Hospital, speaks to Thế giới & Việt Nam (The World and Việt Nam Report) online newspaper about children's mental health.


Professor Nguyễn Thanh Liêm, former director of the National Children's Hospital. — Photo

Professor Nguyễn Thanh Liêm, former Director of the National Children's Hospital, speaks to Thế giới & Việt Nam (The World and Việt Nam Report) about children's mental health.

Nowadays, many parents are concerned about their children suffering from depression. What are your thoughts on this?

Depression is a serious global mental health problem. Prevalence rates for depression in children and adolescents range from 2.6-19.4 per cent. Of these, 15–25 per cent of children have serious thoughts of suicide and 1.3-3.8 per cent attempt suicide.

In Việt Nam, we do not have many studies on depression in children and teenagers. But, with a developing society close to the model of developed countries, perhaps the depression rate in Việt Nam is not much different.

In particular, some studies show that the rate of depression among school-age children has increased significantly during the social isolation period due to COVID-19.

Depression causes many serious consequences, affecting students' performance. Many children no longer have the ability to learn, lose social interactions, abuse drugs, have suicidal thoughts, make a suicide plan or commit suicide.

Unfortunately, the community's awareness of this issue is still quite limited, so the detection, support and prevention are still inadequate.

Recently, many children committed suicide due to various stresses. However, it seems that parents are still not aware of their child's mental health disorders. What is your advice?

There are many reasons that parents do not recognise early signs of depression in their children. Modern life makes parents spend less time with their children. A change of lifestyle also means parents have less time to talk, exchange and confide in their children.

In many families, children go back to their own room after finishing a meal, closing the door and separating themselves from the outside. All children's activities are in their room. Face-to-face communication between family members is decreasing.

To prevent unfortunate consequences, parents need to learn how to detect the earliest signs of depression. 

Signs of depression include a feeling of boredom, emptiness, difficulty concentrating, forgetfulness and fatigue. 

Some have feelings of hopelessness, irritability, and loss of interest in hobbies or activities.

Parents should see changes in their child's behaviour as possible signs of depression, such as extreme irritability, like snapping at friends and family or being annoyed at small things.

Physical symptoms such as reduced appetite or overeating, headache, chest pain and digestive disorders are also possible.

For early detection, parents need to spend more time with their children every day, observing and monitoring the child's psychological development. Parents should take their children to a psychiatrist as soon as they suspect their child has a mental health problem such as depression.

Clinical psychology and training of clinical psychologists have not been given much attention in Việt Nam. What should we do to solve this problem?

As living standards improve, the disease pattern in the country is changing. We move from focusing on infectious diseases to non-communicable diseases. However, in non-communicable diseases, we have only paid attention to cancer, diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases, but have not paid enough attention to mental health.

Therefore, the training of experts in this field has not been focused on, especially the training of quality clinical psychologists with international standards.

In developed countries, becoming a clinical psychologist requires a doctoral degree and licence, which can take eight or more years of education and training to complete.

To train psychologists according to international standards, the Ministry of Education and Training needs to consult training programmes of developed countries to build appropriate programmes in Việt Nam.

We should invite international experts to teach or send lecturers to long-term study in developed countries to study and apply their training model to Việt Nam. — VNS