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Mental health problems in children: this is how parents can help properly
Mental health problems in children: this is how parents can help properly

Anxiety disorders, depression and thoughts of suicide - a new study sounds the alarm: The mental health of young people in Austria is worrying. Two therapists explain what parents can do.

depression children adolescents
depression children adolescents

Our children and young people are doing badly. School closings, contact restrictions and strict rules spread insecurity and fuel fear of the future. A recent study by Danube University Krems in cooperation with the Medical University of Vienna has examined how this affects the psyche of boys.

Conditions of concern

Around 3000 schoolchildren were questioned about their mental health in February 2021. Study leader Christoph Pieh calls the massive increase in psychological symptoms "worrying". "55 percent suffer from depressive symptoms, half from anxiety and a quarter from sleep disorders," says the study. 16 percent of adolescents said they had suicidal thoughts either daily or for more than half of the days.

Pieh calls for the psychosocial consequences of the pandemic to be given greater consideration in future decisions. Rapid care for mental problems is just as important as encouraging physical activity. Above all, however, the schools must remain open. Because a regular daily structure and social exchange would also help the young people.

The important role of parents

Children help depression
Children help depression

Regular exercise, social contacts and a daily routine: How nice would it be if all these factors just healed the mental wounds? For the parents of the children affected, the situation sometimes seems hopeless, says the psychoanalyst and child analyst Nassim Agdari-Moghadam: "They face many challenges and difficult situations. Some of them have lost their jobs and are struggling with existential worries." Agdari-Moghadam advises adults to speak openly about the disappointments that come with this difficult time. To be aware of the changes and to forge plans for the future together - that could take away the young people's fear and uncertainty.

What symptoms are clients currently struggling with in particular? "Difficulty concentrating, aggressive behavior, eating disorders, sleep disorders and young people who can hardly or no longer be reached by their parents," says the child analyst. It is quite normal for parents to find their children's symptoms bothersome and stressful. Nevertheless, one should be ready to help without wanting to have the signs of illness gone immediately: "The child sends such a clear signal: 'I need support!"

How do I help my child when they …

Children help depression
Children help depression

"It is essential to avoid trivializing worries," warns Dominique Kotynek. The systemic psychotherapist has also clearly noticed in recent months that the call for psychological support is becoming more present.

Since the parents are the direct contact person for their children, we asked both experts for specific tips for the first conversation:

… shows symptoms of anxiety?

"In no case try to talk away the fear! Even if it seems nonsensical, it is real for the child. It is best to discuss in which situations the fear arises. Perhaps it has an idea of what to do about it", so Child analyst Agdari-Moghadam.

According to Kotynek, the following reaction is particularly counterproductive: "Well, why are you afraid? That is not necessary at all. There are other situations that are much worse!" This does not relieve fear, it can actually make the suffering worse.

… shows depressive symptoms?

"Basically you can say that these symptoms belong in a normal spectrum of behavior. The duration, the intensity and the level of suffering determine the severity. If the child withdraws and appears sad, definitely seek the conversation. Parents should show interest, ask What is going on. A good conversation starter is: 'I notice that you are withdrawing. What could this have to do with?' "recommends Agdari-Moghadam.

"Depression or a depressed mood is a feeling that one often feels powerless against," says Kotynek. In no case should one therefore use sentences like: "You don't need to be sad, you have so many beautiful things!" to say.

… has insomnia?

"Sleep disorders are particularly agonizing for those affected. Fatigue has many side effects and is therefore not only a problem at night. Basically, relaxation rituals and opportunities are required that can be consciously created - a structured daily routine can also be helpful," advises Kotynek.

Which rituals help? "Do not consume anything exciting before bed, go to bed at a fixed time, drink warm tea or milk and listen to calming music," recommends Agdari-Moghadam.

… expresses suicidal thoughts?

"As soon as such statements are made, it is essential to contact a trained and outside person in order to intervene in the crisis," emphasizes the systemic psychotherapist. And although this situation is frightening and worrying, the same applies to parents again: Talk about it openly!

Helping people help themselves

Of course, parents find it difficult to deal with their children's grief. Helplessness, fear, and worry can be crippling. But both experts affirm: Talking takes the pressure off young people! Un: It is never wrong to get outside help. Incidentally, this also applies to adults, emphasizes Agdari-Moghadam: "If mothers and fathers take good care of themselves and go to parenting counseling, they can deal more calmly with the problems of their loved ones. If the parents are discouraged, the children are not happy either!"

Important contact points:

  • Vienna Psychoanalytical Association: Children's Clinic / Vienna
  • Psychotherapeutic University Outpatient Clinic: Children and Adolescents / Vienna
  • Child and adolescent psychiatry: Vienna / Graz / Linz
  • Telephone counseling: Tel.: 142 (emergency call) daily from midnight to midnight
  • Advice on the wire: Tel.: 147 (emergency call) daily from midnight to midnight

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