'Abused in the name of discipline'- psychiatrist
A leading child psychiatrist is reporting that approximately 40 per cent of Jamaican children are struggling with depression and anxiety, triggered by abuse.
Dr Julian Walters, adult and child psychiatrist at the Fairview Medical Centre in Montego Bay, St James, says the abuse of our children is an issue which needs more attention.
"The first thing is that a part of the problem with abuse in this country is that we call it discipline. We hit our children, we tie them up in ants nests (anthill) not recognising that that was abuse at the time," said Walters.
"So educating parents as to the difference between discipline and abuse is something we have to do," said Walters during a public forum hosted by the Rights Awareness Programme and Rise Life Management in Association with the British Council, last week.
Walters said the principal cause of depression in children is abuse, which comes in varying forms and severity.
"There is physical abuse, sexual abuse, bullying in school, some sort of stressor that is going on in their life, which in turn is causing the depression," said Walters, as she charged that in many cases the depressed children are not taken for treatment as they are often misread and misinterpreted.
"So we find children are walking around with depression and anxiety, they are irritable, they get into fights easily, they are not performing in school, but we are chalking it up to bad behaviour, inability to learn and not really looking into the deeper issues of depression and anxiety that they are having."
Walters noted that some of the signs of anxiety and depression are manifested in behaviour changes and changes in the child's ability to perform academically.
"It comes out in the maladaptive behaviour, lower grades, kids not performing at the level that they should be performing because they are depressed and because they are anxious, or because they are having attention problems as well, they lack focus and do not concentrate. So those are the three things we see - depression, anxiety and attention problems," said Walters.
The child psychiatrist argued that with schools overcrowded and guidance counsellors most times overwhelmed, teachers and school administrators generally opt for the easiest way out, which means that sometimes children are sent to the principal's office, suspended or given some other form or punishment.
Walters also urged Jamaicans not to continue withholding information about abuse, but to report it, as she has seen cases where children were being abused by the parents but nobody spoke up for the child and the matter not pursued.
"I would recommend that they begin to speak to the schools, to the police, the CDA (Child Development Agency), OCR (Office of the Children's Registry) and OCA (Office of the Children's Advocate ) ... place the call and have them come in and investigate the situations," said Walters.
"Until that happens, where persons are coming in, not necessarily to take the child out of the home, but to partner with the parents and teach them what is discipline and how to take care of their children, because what is going on is that many parents do not know how to take care of their children."