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The silent mental health crisis among India’s children can’t go unnoticed!


One in four Indian children in the age group of 13-15 years (adolescents) is depressed. This disquieting statistic was released by the World Health Organization in 2016 in a report about the mental health status of adolescents in the country. Even as we observe World Mental Health Day this year, a silent mental health crisis is brewing among children across the country that few are paying attention to. 

Just looking at the data released by the WHO is enough for us to sit up and take notice. India has the highest suicide rate among 10 South-East Asian countries studied by the WHO. The rate was as high as 35.5 suicides per 1 lakh of population in the 15-29 age group and a lot of those succumbing were children. 

The problem is so vast that about one in four children are depressed while one in ten are anxious. Eleven per cent of children reported being “distracted” and had a hard time concentrating on their work while another 10% said that they have no close friends. 

While these numbers may appear small in comparison to the adult mental health crisis, it must be remembered that data such as this is only an indication of a much larger problem. At-risk children are often going through various kinds of trauma – mental and emotional abuse, sexual violence, bullying, substance abuse, financial issues, family infighting and sometimes, messy separation or divorces between their parents. 

All of this contributes to their worsening mental health and being overlooked by their own family and friends as just being “moody” doesn’t help the case. Moreover, the official reported numbers of mental health issues among children tend to be much lower than actual incidence because of lack of reporting or medical attention provided to these children. Often, silent killers like depression are ignored for a long time until the child is older and independent enough to seek help for themselves. We, as educators and parents, or simply as adults need to do better unto our children. We can help be their voice if they are struggling. 

The above chart shows how prevalent the mental health epidemic is among the children of this country. Almost 98 lakh (about 10 million) teenagers are suffering from depression and other mental health disorders and are “in need of active intervention”. While total incidence rate was found to be more than 7% by a VIMHANS study, children in rural areas were found to be much more likely to be suffering from depression and anxiety as compared to urban areas. 

This is a problem. Even primary healthcare facilities in the rural areas are not equipped to handle mental health issues in most cases and this leaves the children at risk. 

At Protsahan, it has been our continuous endeavour to work with children who have gone through trauma through our art and therapy programs. We not only organize therapy sessions for the children but also help them recover and heal through our art classes and technology training which builds concentration, innovative learnings and engages them productively and increase their social circle as well. 

We have developed a model of our work as the HEART principle (Healing, Education, Art based Life Skills, Recovery and Technology) that is based on the premise of working through the power of empathy, creativity, life skills, and active listening. The focus is on healing the broken childhoods using the creative power of various art forms like painting, cinema, design, film making, dance, music, photography and meditation and helping the children with our education through an integrated after school program. 

To study the impact of its efforts, Protsahan carried out a study with experts with the at-risk adolescent girls who have been coming to Protsahan for the last 3-10 years, using self-report questionnaires and interview method. The age of the participants ranged between 15-17 years. etc. The participants’ results indicated that:

  • 89% of them scored high on resilience attitudes and skills profile
  • 78% had high scores on creativity, humour, insight and relationship subscale
  • 89% had high scores on independence subscale
  • 100% of girls had high on initiative and values orientation subscale
  • 77% scored above average on Coopersmith self-esteem inventory with 85% having high social self-esteem scores
  • 100% showed having high academic self-esteem
  • 55% scored highly on the self-efficacy questionnaire, including high social, emotional and academic self-efficacy (Muris,2001);
  • 55% scored high wellbeing on adolescent well-being scale (Birleson, 1981).

While the government has taken steps in the direction of providing education and basic healthcare to children, a comprehensive child and adolescent mental health policy is the need of the hour. Till that time that the state intervenes and takes charge of the situation, it’s on all of us to keep talking about the children and find out ways to help them. We must hear their silent screams and rush to help in whatever capacity we can. 

Mental health disorders impact more children in rural areas than urban

Here are some resources which you can use to help a child around you who are in need of mental health intervention: 

  • Call the child helpline at 1098 and seek help from the government-run agencies
  • Reach out to your nearest state-run hospital/healthcare centre and seek an appointment with a psychiatrist or a psychologist for at-risk children. Most government hospitals have mental health professionals on the panel who provide services for free or at a very nominal cost
  • People in Delhi can reach out to Ambedkar University’s Ehsaas clinic which is a psychotherapy collective offering therapy on a sliding scale basis to ensure that everyone can access mental health treatment
  • Other collectives which work on a pay-what-you-can model include The Alternative Story and YourDOST which provides online counselling services

The bottom line: This World Mental Health Day, we seek your help in protecting the children. If you know a child around you who could use some help, don’t ignore them and walk away. A couple of phone calls that you make could change their whole life. Never forget that every child matters. 

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