Are kids psychologically scarred or just rude?
Children who display behavioural problems are often branded as rude, but experts argue that in many instances, this is not the case and that there is, in fact, some underlying psychological problem that the youngsters need help coping with.
A mobile health project which was undertaken by the Child Development Agency (CDA) between 2014 and 2015 in the southeast region saw assessments carried out on members of 10 children's homes and two juvenile remand centres. Of the 460 children who were screened, 39 per cent were found to be normal while the remaining 61 per cent were deemed to be either borderline (12 per cent) or abnormal (49 per cent); meaning there was, at least, indication of issues that required further assessment.
"They (Jamaicans) don't understand that there are real mental health issues and what we call disorder (affecting some of our children)," CDA's clinical psychologist for the North East Region, Melody Samuels, said during a Gleaner Editor's forum held at the company's Kingston headquarters last week.
Samuels pointed out that, among the conditions that are found in children is post traumatic stress disorder, which is similar to what some soldiers experience after returning from war.
"That is a condition that comes after an individual has been exposed to circumstances that they perceive to be dangerous and they felt that they couldn't do anything about it. They couldn't help or protect themselves or those they love," Samuels shared.
Children are also found to be depressed, which can cause irritability; some have been abused, while others suffer from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and oppositional defiance disorder.
"Oppositional defiance disorder sees the child being vindictive. (They) like to annoy the children around them. (They are) defiant to authority figures (and) get in quarrels with the teachers," Samuels explained. "This is a disorder that is treatable, but, if left unchecked, for many of them, it progresses to conduct disorder, which is a more serious issue where they begin to break major societal norms with no remorse ... and those are the ones who transition into serious criminals."
Ian Ashley, who is the guidance counsellor at Ensom City Primary School in Spanish Town, believes a lot of the behavioural problems being displayed by children are learnt, so what he seeks to do is help them to unlearn these behaviours so transformation can take place.
"The environment plays on the whole behavioural consciousness of the child and so you find, as a result, the children tend to act out what they learn as becoming the norm in their space," Ashley said.
BRANDED AS BAD
"What you will find is that persons who are not familiar with these kinds of environments will brand these children as being bad, and, as a result, it tends to allow them to accept themselves as they are. This makes their transformation so much more difficult because they are seeing themselves as being bad."
Head of the CDA, Rosalee Gage-Grey, pointed out that a number of the children in their teens who are brought into the agency as being uncontrollable are found to have been abused or have suffered some form of trauma when they were much younger which was never treated.
"Because the trauma happens to the child and is not treated, it builds and it is a progression from just being angry, and then you start to have the psychosocial issues come in and it progresses right up to mental issues," Gage-Gray said.
"These pose as triggers, so if you have a predisposition to a mental issue, the abuse serves as a trigger, which is why we have started the first responders, so if there is a murder in the community or a parent has died or there is a fire, we move in and try to get to the children."
The CDA's clinical psychologist for the South East Region, Cherena Forbes, identified learning disorder as another issue affecting children. This is sometimes missed by parents and teachers with the child being physically abused as a result and labelled as 'dunce' or 'stubborn'.
"When a child with learning disorders is in a classroom setting, they doesn't want to be known as the child who is dunce and doesn't know the work when the teacher calls on them," Forbes highlighted. "So what does that child do most of the time? They make mischief, they become the class clown and they get sent outside. And by the time three or four of them are outside they gather together and they get into behavioural problems as well."
She added that there are also children with serious and persistent mental illnesses. These children tend to experience schizophrenia, hallucination and mood disorders, where sometimes they are in a very depressive and a manic state. All these disorders are, however, treatable, but early detection is key.
What to do if you suspect your
child has a mental disorder
The CDA clinical psychologist for the North East Region, Melody Samuels, advises parents and caregivers to first look out for the signs of mental disorder.
"They need to look out, for example, for a change in behaviour; a child that was bright and chirpy suddenly becoming withdrawn," Samuels said.
"We need to be looking out for children who are wincing when you offer them a hug ... a child who was wetting the bed long ago and starts wetting the bed again."
When any of these signs are noticed, Samuels suggests that the child should be taken to a see a counsellor.
"You can take them to the CDA, there are parish offices, and they can get a level of counselling there," Samuels shared. "There are also the child guidance clinics that are throughout the country. There are also the mental health clinics. There are counselling services and private practitioners who are also available."