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LETTERS: Children’s mental healthcare neglected

World Mental Health Day
A poster is displayed during a World Mental Health Day procession in Nairobi last month. PHOTO | KANYIRI WAHITO | NMG 

Reported incidents of schoolgoing children committing suicide, engaging in substance abuse, being caught up in online offensiveness and even dropping out of school due to radicalisation is symptomatic of how their mental health has suffered from inattention over time.

According to Unicef, up to 20 percent of adolescents globally experience mental disorders. Suicide is the leading cause of death among 15-19-year-olds worldwide. Around 15 percent of adolescents in low-and middle-income countries have considered suicide in their lifetime.

The 2014 Kenya Demographic and Health Survey shows a bottom-heavy population. Half of it is below age 20 (52 percent). At 14 percent, the under-five population constitutes the largest age group in urban areas, while the 5-9 population is the largest five-year age group in rural areas (17 percent).

That such data call for having working structures that will guarantee mental health and well-being of the people cannot be gainsaid. Preparations to mark World Children’s Day are on but children’s mental health discourse appears not to be satisfactorily amplified locally.

Leaders must critique if truly we are moving closer to a level where, according to Unicef, every child is in school and learning, safe from harm and able to fulfil their potential.

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We live in an era in which life puts pressure on everyone regardless of age. Children are the most vulnerable due to their delicate developmental processes.

Risks such as child-unfriendly exposure to technology, family tensions, conflict, instability, peer rejection and humiliation, social and emotional deprivation; must be reduced. The existence of early warning signs must also be detected.

The success of fee-free education and the government education policy of annual 100 percent transition brings a challenge in effectively reaching out to the children in the school setting.

Cases of emotional and mood disorders, anxiety, self-harm actions, behavioural problems and substance use can easily escape teachers’ attention. This is exacerbated when capacity building of handlers of children is ineffectively minimal.

The child in your house or classroom may well be hurting and distraught but you are oblivious to this. We need a remodelling that will create a family-focused health provision and ensure that a seamless parenting framework exists between home and school.

When there is no free communication, parents live with their children as perfect strangers and push them over to teachers who correspondingly cannot relate to them. Such learners largely end up with fallow potential.

The reality of our generational snare is obvious: overtly captured by the inanity of technology and the internet. People have embraced computer-generated and online-driven relationships and our children have been appropriately cued. In a little while, we will have a generation that cannot submit to real and authentic human relationships.

A neglected mental health of the children has a snowballing effect and touches not only the individual and the family but also spills over disastrously to the broader society.

With devoted nurturing, predictable resourcing plus creation of multi-pronged support pathways that are proactive, whole and accessible, we can move towards securing future generation.

Allan Onunga is an educator.

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