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When I was a child…

Wednesday, January 27, 2016
Mental Health Matters

Last week in one of my higher-learning classes, a lecturer was asked by a classmate whose childhood was spent elsewhere, to tell us the difference in life then and now. We were discussing changes in lifestyle from the perspective of the baby boomers and how over time those have influenced changes in lifestyles, diseases, and illnesses. From the expressions, the resulting discussion was quite a schooling for the younger ones who make up the larger percentage of the cohort.

When we reflect on our lives we mainly recall good times, experiences and memories. Seldom would you meet anyone who volunteers the other information about their life—the trauma, violations, adverse experience, damaging occurrences, poverty, and the like.

When I was a child, I was mostly a happy child. We were abjectly poor but my parents somehow shielded me from that information so it was not until it was pointed out by a schoolmate in primary school that I knew anything of it. Then in secondary school, Form One, I always remember the food and nutrition teaching speaking of whole wheat bread for which I had absolutely no reference. I was privately embarrassed and sat there hoping she never asked me anything on the subject. She chose my classmate Ken Joseph and they had the discussion, thankfully.

I started “acting out” by my second year in secondary school. Having topped my year one, the expectations were high but the praise and prizes somehow coincided with my desire to be disruptive. And disruptive I was for the next few years with falling grades as proof of the deeper problem.

Often, I wonder if someone had asked me a question or develop a concern about the root issues what would have been the outcome. For me, I really wanted someone to ask me about “stuff” but my teachers, while extremely supportive—with much gratitude for the outstanding support from Vera Nibbs, Joycelyn Bobb, Miss Ashby, the school secretary, the late Phulmatie Maharaj, Dr Francisca Allard, Marlene Charles, and Principal Rev Allan Parks, among many others—offered many other solutions like counselling, detention, and Inter-School Christian Fellowship, and so on.

Retrospectively, I know even if they’d asked, back then I could only offer them the surface experiences, the more palatable, ones because we’ve been nurtured and socialised to suppress the hideous circumstances of our lives—the very ones that destroy the fabric of our being.

That suppression of issues, the desire to keep hidden the unpleasant situations of disappointments, hurts, abuse, and trauma is still predominant in our society. We socialise our children to pretend all is well. As parents, I wonder how many of us would dare share with our children what we have suffered to offer them a window of hope that says to them it’s possible and important to speak out and accept help for their troubling issues. I suspect we don’t and that could account in part for the explosion in incidence of bullying, teen-on-teen violence, suicide and self-harm, suicidal ideation, and more.

Globally, the experts are weighing in on the severity of the issue of childhood traumas and adversity and are offering solutions and suggestions for the management of the wellbeing of children with the understanding that all of these negative issues are made to bear on behaviour and health in the adult years. These are proactive scholarship which I believe can help T&T with its flabbergasted and reactionary conduct to our current and debilitating societal breakdown.

“A central aim of any society should be that its children and young people enjoy their lives and acquire the skills necessary to become happy, functioning adults,” says the introduction of one such WHO (World Health Organization) supported document. “For this, they need to develop emotional buoyancy, coping skills, resilience and the ability to form constructive social relationships…” 

The raw facts are that hundreds of millions of people worldwide are affected by mental disorders. 

From among that number, ten per cent of the world’s children live (and suffer) from diagnosable mental illnesses and disorders. 

Roughly half of these children have anxiety disorders (or, less commonly, depression) and the other half live with conduct disorder or attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Approximately one per cent of all children suffer from developmental disorders such as autism.

Where evidence exists over time, it shows that these problems have increased over the last half century (WHO).

We do not yet have the applicable evidence for T&T, but we’d do well to assume that a similar ratio applies here. Of course, those statistics would only makes sense if we want to assume and perhaps give more consideration for what is happening in our population, understanding that most adult complications of mind and body begin in the childhood years.

With some contemplation, we may realise and come to accept that T&T needs a sustainable programme of preventive actions, treatment, and care which must be widely available to our population, especially the constituency of children and adolescence, to move us over time from our current jaw-dropping circumstances to a better place the future.



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