Early childhood experiences play a crucial role in shaping a child's mental health. Common mental health problems can emerge during this period, impacting a child's development. In this article, we explore various mental health issues in children, the factors contributing to their development, and essential systems for managing and protecting children's mental well-being.
Common Mental Health Problems in Children:
- Anxiety Disorder
- Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
- Neurodevelopmental Disabilities - Autism
- Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
- Conduct Disorder
How Mental Health Problems Develop:
Child's Genetic Predispositions: Genetic instructions influence how our bodies function, impacting the speed of genetic activity and contributing to mental health outcomes.
Exposure to Significant Adversity in the Environment: Toxic stress, characterized by strong, frequent, or prolonged stressors.
These factors can damage the developing brain's architecture and increase the likelihood of significant mental health problems.
Adversities may impair school readiness, academic achievement, and physical and mental health in children and later in adulthood. Children may persistently struggle with self-regulation, emotional adaptability, relating to others, and self-understanding even after the adversity.
Essential Systems in Managing Children's Mental Health:
Examples of protective factors that can mitigate the impact of adversities include:
- Having needs met
- Love & care
- Appropriate guidance
Creating easy access to effective prevention and treatment programs is essential. Coordinated services that focus on the child's full environment of relationships, including parents, extended family members, home visitors, providers of early care and education, and mental health professionals, are crucial.
For Physicians and Providers of Early Care & Education:
- Appropriate professional training
- Easier access to child mental health professionals
Understanding the effects of early experiences on early childhood mental health is critical for promoting healthy development and preventing long-term mental health problems. By emphasizing protective factors and implementing comprehensive support systems, we can create a positive environment that fosters the well-being of children in their formative years.
Dr Shawn Ee.
BSc. BPsych. DPsych.(Clinical), Clinical Psychologist & Psychoanalytic Psychotherapist, Registered Psychologist (AHPRA; Australia)