Pre-school kids suffering from depression and anxiety: Gujarat

THE first ever mental health programme launched by the Gujarat government under the ongoing School Health Programme (SHP) has revealed depression as the most prevalent disorder followed by anxiety and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in the 1-22 age category. According to senior officials, nearly 2,700 forms flagging mental disorders were received by the health department for further analyses by a team of experts. While the second round of analyses is still in the process, initial findings have confirmed 1,000 cases and identified them with six specific mental disorders including mental retardation, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety, depression, slow learning and Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD).
The specialised forms, along with a 32-page mental health module, were distributed in government and private schools, anganwadis as well as from children not attending regular school and are lodged in institutions such as orphanages and children homes. Among the confirmed cases, anxiety and depression constitutes nearly 50 per cent of all disorders – 27 per cent were found suffering from depression and 20 per cent from anxiety.
As per the findings, examined by The Indian Express, further analysis of these cases has revealed that the maximum prevalence of these two disorders has been identified in the 7-13 years age group with 69 per cent and 75 per cent cases of depression and anxiety, respectively. Over three per cent cases of anxiety and depression have been detected among pre-school children.
The Indian Express had reported in August 2015 that the state’s mental health programme also aims to record the sexual orientations of a child – “whether a boy behaves like a girl and a girl behaves like a boy” or whether a “child gets consumed in thoughts of his/her gender at most of the times”. The initial findings have not identified any of these cases.
The health department now plans to undertake this project aggressively in its second year. “The government has already decided to make it a major component of the school health
programme. The aim is to change society’s perception, where mental health is usually not taken seriously and ignored. We want to establish it as a parallel component to physical health where awareness and training will be stressed upon,” said health commissioner J P Gupta.
Experts believe that the findings could be the tip of the iceberg. “The possible reasons for this could be related to environmental conditions. A child should not be sent to school at least till he completes four years of age but these days, under the name of playschools, parents enroll them even at an age group of 2 or even less and force them to undertake various activities and competitions and expect them to excel in each,” said Dr Ajay Chauhan, medical superintendent, Ahmedabad Mental Hospital.
Dr Chauhan, who is also the programme officer of this health department initiative, blamed the absence of social interaction among toddlers. “With nuclear families and working parents, the concept of playing on the streets and social interaction has been replaced by television viewing, mobile and internet surfing by toddlers. This has to be controlled,” he said.
The second age group with comparatively high prevalence of these disorders is adolescents (14-19 years of age) – 20 per cent and 27 per cent of anxiety and depression cases, respectively, have been recorded in this group.
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) has been detected among 17 per cent children, including adolescents, followed by nearly 12 per cent of slow learners. Mental retardation was detected among 10 per cent.
The findings also revealed a lower percentage of disorders among females (34 per cent) than males (66 per cent). “The gap exists and this has been identified in this programme. The number of cases could be just the tip of an ice berg and needs to be addressed,” said Dr Hemang Shah, department of psychiatry, GMERS Medical College, Sola, who was associated with the preparation of the mental health module.
The School Health Programme (SHP), which completed two decades this year, covered 1.55 crore children during the 2016-17 academic session at 1.06 lakh institutions. It also covers diseases ranging from anaemia, worm infestation, dental problems, opthalmic problems, abdominal problems, skin diseases, obesity, tobacco consumption, respiratory tract infection, neurological disorders, orthopedic problems, ENT – heart, kidney and bone marrow transplants were recently included.

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