In the Child and Youth Protection Centre of the City of Zagreb, we work with sexually abused children and their families every day. I am proud to say that here they can find a safe place where they get help and support. On the European Day on the protection of children against sexual exploitation and sexual abuse, 18 November, we remind parents to read our publications about how to recognise and respond if the child has been sexually abused:
Today, October 10, we mark the World Mental Health Day and on this occasion it is important to me to share some facts, knowledge and reflection on mental health of children and young people to whom our Center is dedicated, with all the experts, parents and others who are monitoring us.
When we read the newspapers, websites, social media or turn tu some other media… almost every day we read something that is related to the mental health of children and youth. Mostly we find topics such as delinquency, suicide, violence and similar issues which actually indicates that we adults don’t care enough for the most vulnerable members of society. We are talking about them only when a problem escalates.
What is mental health?
Mental health is not just a “non-health”, it is not unfortunately often and sensational reporting on children and young people who suffer from some perturbation and/or disorders. Mental health is also emphasizing on positive examples of young people in our society which really does not lack – volunteers, successful students, athletes, children and young people who are making small steps in their community to achieve some positive changes.
Mental health is preventative action from the earliest age, involving children, young people, parents and families in various activities, providing support, opening up experts to children and families, promoting positive examples, conducting public campaigns, educating and early risk assessments with appropriate interventions. Although it may seem that such extensive mental health care is difficult and expensive to organize, many developed countries of the world recognize that it is more difficult and expensive (in every sense) to focus primarily on the treatment of consequences instead of preventing their development.
A particular problem occurs when parents or guardians of a child, those who should provide the most love and safety (and for many children this is at least half of mental health), are the ones who inflict pain and the ones who interfere with healthy development and undermine mental health. Researches show that 15 to 30 percent of children and adolescents suffer from emotional and physical abuse, and that every fifth child is sexually abused. Therefore, it is not surprising that, according to research data from the Faculty of Education and Rehabilitation in Zagreb, about 20 percent of young people in Zagreb have significant clinical symptoms of some disorders (depression, anxiety…).
The importance of professionals involved in the care of children
In such cases, the importance of us as professionals becomes even greater, as well as the responsibility that we have. When I say professionals, I mean all adults involved in the care of children – teachers, educators, professors, doctors, psychologists, speech therapists, social workers, coaches … Only by opening our eyes for children to be seen, opening our ears for children to be heard and opening our hands to each other tirelessly working together, we can help children who survive such experiences. Although the reaction can cause anger in parents, and although we have involuntary clients with whom we work, it is important to react and thus contribute to the preservation of mental health of the child, the young person, who will become adult who will have their own children.
In my own experience, I can say that I do not know any parent who wants to harm their child, but I’ve met many of them who have done harm their child. Most parents are, however, open to counseling and change and they need us as active assistants. Children need us too, as active assistants who are working together. I hope that in the next year there will be much more extensive discussion about mental health, especially of children and young people, and that we will justify with our actions the World Mental Health Day that we are commemorating today with words.