ZG-magazine: “Professor Buljan Flander: Today it is normal – not to feel normal”

“About where she grew up, what kind of life dream she realized in Zagreb, what the psyche and soul are, ZG-magazine told professor Gordana Buljan Flander, PhD, clinical psychologist and psychotherapist, director of the Zagreb Child and Youth Protection Center. It reveals the mental health of the nation and the consequences of the situation with the coronavirus, but also the earthquake in Zagreb. Portal ZG-magazine published an interview with the director, professor Gordana Buljan Flander, PhD ”, writes journalist Snježana Kratz on the portal ZG-magazine, which on July 3, 2020 published an interview with the our director professor Gordan Buljan Flander, PhD:


“…. They say that we are separated from the (conditionally speaking) normal and the non-normal one by one step?

Talking about normal and abnormal or even crazy is also popular, but not good. It is harmful to stick such labels on people, and especially on children who, under the weight of labels and pressures, can give in and stay less than they can be. Instead of declaring someone crazy, it would be wonderful to stop and ask – how and who is that person? What makes her happy, sad, what makes her angry, scared and worried, what is her life story? What wounds are still hurting, how is she trying to heal them and – is there a way to help her with that? Furthermore, what is the strength of that person and how to develop it together with him? Sometimes a person fits into a certain diagnostic category and there is nothing wrong with that. The F (psychiatric) diagnosis also makes sense because it explains to the person what is happening to them, their difficulties are recognized, and the best available health protocol is used to help them.

So …

So, whatever it is, it is important not to stay on a superficial level and label people with simple categories and discriminate against them.


What is the situation with children?

The same goes for children and their unwanted behaviors. Of course, they should have consequences, but that is not the end of the story. In addition to the consequences, it is important to investigate what is behind a behavior, so the child should be provided with adequate support by all systems, as well as his family.


What do the research say?

Research and clinical practice systematically show that relationships are the ones that heal, that is, that it is important to share how we are. It is important to provide, but also to receive support. It is also important not to shy away from professional help and support, the stigma towards those who need and (or) want the help of a psychologist or psychiatrist should be broken.

What is the mental health of our nation? It was shaken by the crown, largely in Zagreb and by the earthquake, the dismissals, the global uncertainty…

Mental health is also a health that we need to take care of, because trauma or emotional wounds and mental disorders cannot be kept under the rug forever. Even if they can, the price is too high because of it, so physical illnesses or seemingly inexplicable and unexpected escalations of violence against oneself or others can occur.


Our lives have changed a lot, and for the worse?

The whole world has undoubtedly gone through a highly stressful, and probably traumatic, experience in the past few months. Zagreb was also hit by a devastating earthquake, making it difficult for people to calm down while the ground still trembles occasionally. There are two “enemies” around us, a virus and an earthquake, so close and so elusive, we can protect ourselves from them to some extent, but in fact we cannot fully protect ourselves. In addition to the fear of infecting us and the people close to us, the fear of a devastating earthquake, many people have lost a lot. Some have lost their roof, close people, sense of security, predictability, structure, are in financial loss… We have all lost our sense of “normalcy” because everything has changed, from just going to the store and small joys of life to a serious future perspective.


Has the violence intensified?

In extreme conditions, domestic violence often becomes more extreme, and victims are locked up in homes with perpetrators. Some of the earlier difficulties and problems that people are dealing with are also escalating, so we have a lot of risk groups. As we have constantly emphasized in the midst of the pandemic and earthquake, it is normal – not to feel normal!


Did you do any research?

The research we conducted shows that many feel more anxious, depressed, that they are under increased stress, which is to be expected. We will see the full picture of the consequences for mental health only in a few months to two years, because these consequences are often delayed. During this period, many parents had to work from home, but also organize child care, school from home, which certainly created additional pressure.


What are our children like in all this, then?

First of all, I must emphasize that we should all be very proud of them. Everything that is difficult for us adults is even harder on the backs of children, and they have shown a high level of discipline, empathy and solidarity throughout this period. It was especially difficult for eighth-graders and high school graduates, but it was also difficult for everyone else who had to change the way they were educated. There was also a lot of free time and socializing, which is of great importance at that age. Although no signs of difficulty are seen in many children at this time, foreign research shows that 30% of children who experience quarantine gradually develop symptoms of PTSD.

Therefore, we can expect that every third child in Zagreb, affected by trauma to that level, has or will have serious difficulties in their further functioning. But you know, I would actually go back to the first question, why do I love Zagreb? One of the reasons is that the City of Zagreb promptly established the Commission for the Protection of the Mental Health of Children and Youth in this situation. Its goal is to strengthen the resilience of children in the long run, by strengthening the capacity of the child protection system and the child’s environment. Primarily through coordinated activities, support for cooperation between all institutions owned by the City of Zagreb, which work directly with children, and the promotion of dialogue between the community and health, educational and social services.

Special emphasis is placed on cross-sectoral cooperation and a joint initiative in the protection of the mental health of the youngest. Hundreds of materials can already be found on the Commission’s website to support children, young people and families, and activities will continue in the autumn when the “screening” of the entire pediatric population of the City of Zagreb is planned.

Praiseworthy for the City.

Yes, and in addition to our usual activities, clinical work and research, in this period we have dedicated a lot of time, effort and energy to psychoeducation and research focused on the specifics of this crisis. Primarily to ensure that support comes to every home, and also for us experts to better assess the needs of the citizens we work with and with whom we will work in the challenging times ahead.


In general, how are our children’s health?

Outside the context of this whole situation, children and young people through a series of national surveys have been making it clear to us for years that – they are not the best. They are lonely, there are indicators of anxiety, depression, risky behaviors, increased use of social networks, they are under stress. They are pressed by the effects of excellence and success, with little time spent in conversation and meaningful activities with family members. Children also clearly tell us that violence is ubiquitous, that they do not confide in adults because they do not have faith that it will help them, nor do they have a strong attachment to school.



These are all worrying data that we all need to react to as members of society. It seems to me that I cannot stress enough the importance of a relationship, primarily with parents, that is not built when we have an adolescent whose behavior we want to control, but from the very birth of a child, consistently and constantly! There is one wonderful quote by an author, unfortunately unknown to me, who says that “if we don’t listen to children while their problems are ‘small’, they won’t come to us even when they are ‘big’. The priority of all of us adults should be that these children feel safe, loved and accepted, that is, we should provide them with clear and safe guidance in education.

I often tell parents that when a child comes home they first ask how he is, instead of how much he got on the test. I tell my colleagues at school that no lesson in the curriculum should be a priority over what is happening in the classroom, for example. Children learn more from what they see than from what we tell them. That is why it is crucial to show by example the values ​​we want to carry – from empathy, tolerance, the importance of support and relationships, to when and how modern technologies are used.


How much life and time does technology take from them?

Young people often tell me that their parents are too mobile, that they don’t have time for them, I would even say more often than parents complain that children spend their time like that, as long as they get good grades. Children and young people are a reflection of their parents, other adults around them, and society as a whole, so the causes of their condition and behavior, as well as the changes we want to achieve, we need to look within ourselves. ”


Source: ZG-magazin.hr

Disclaimer: This is unofficial translation provided for information purposes. Zagreb Child and Youth Protection Center cannot be held legally responsible for any translation inaccuracy. 

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