Wed | Dec 8, 2021

Child mental health illness off the charts

Published:Monday | October 12, 2020 | 12:12 AMNadine Wilson-Harris/Gleaner Writer
Dr Ganesh Shetty, child, adolescent and adult psychiatrist.
Dr Ganesh Shetty, child, adolescent and adult psychiatrist.

An estimated 120,000 children in Jamaica could be living with mental illness, but because of the paucity of clinicians able to help them, as well as parental apathy, only five per cent of kids are being given the intervention they desperately need.

According to child and adolescent psychiatrist Dr Ganesh Shetty, of the 800,000 children in Jamaica, it is estimated that about 15 per cent have a mental-health disorder, with five per cent having a serious mental-health disorder.

“It works out to amongst 10-19, about 70,000 of them might have a mental disorder, and 25,000 might have a serious mental disorder,” said the psychiatrist, who has worked for years in the Child Guidance Clinic within the South East Regional Health Authority (SERHA).

“In the younger group, 45,000 might have a mental disorder, and 15,000 might have a serious mental disorder,” he said.

Shetty was among several presenters during last week’s Mental Health Conference hosted virtually by The University of the West Indies, Mona; the Pan American Health Organization; and the Ministry of Health and Wellness.

In 2018, only 3,500 children received counselling at child guidance clinics islandwide. Most had an average of three to four sessions, which is not sufficient if their mental-health condition is considered to be chronic.

There are more than 20 child guidance clinic sites and about 16 clinicians who work exclusively with children/adolescents islandwide. An additional 50 clinicians who are responsible for large numbers of mentally ill adults sometimes help out.

“Why we are seeing only this small amount of children is because we have understaffed and overburdened child health clinics,” he said.


Existing stigma in the society also discourages parents from seeking help for their children.

“Many parents think, ‘My child is bad but not mad, so why does he have to go to a psychiatrist?’

“Many of them cannot afford bus fare, and sometimes they have to go through violence-infested areas, so they are afraid,” the psychiatrist added.

Poverty causes some parents to prioritise feeding children over taking them to a clinic.

The COVID-19 pandemic has worsened those mental-health issues such as depression among the nation’s children and slowed the State’s ability to respond.

Shetty said he has already started receiving complaints from students about the volume of homework they are being given, which may increase as schools seek to overcompensate for weeks of lost tuition.

Consultant paediatrician Dr Abigail Harrison said that an increasing number of children are turning to cutting and are displaying signs of eating disorders.

The paediatrician said that young people, especially, are asking how long the COVID-19 dislocation will last.

Some children are also anxious about their appearance and do not want to show their faces online.

“Recently, I have been seeing quite a few of the younger ones who are just starting a new space who, for example, they are going to first form in a new school, and they really don’t know anybody in their class.

“How do you make friends when you are online in a class and the teacher doesn’t allow you to talk?” Harrison asked.