The importance of holistic care for children’s mental health

Naila Al Moosawi, Founder & Chief Counsellor at Amal Counselling, highlights the value of adopting a holistic approach to well-being, considering the interconnectedness of physical, emotional and mental health when raising children.

For the longest time, mental health was considered a stigma; many conditions went undiagnosed, ignored, or treated as a stain on one’s reputation. As the world progressed, the stigma began to gradually lift. While there are still some cultures that are yet to accept the importance of mental health, the rest of the world has finally started giving it its due diligence.

As new approaches to health begin to emerge, more health professionals and organizations are recognizing the significance of mental health. These new approaches brought about the age of holistic approach in healthcare. In simple words, the holistic approach focuses on caring for an individual as a whole; prioritising their physical, mental, and emotional health in the process.

Holistic care is rooted in maintaining the equilibrium of health; if one aspect of health is affected, the others will consequently suffer. For example, while stress is a predominantly psychological symptom, it may cause physical symptoms like headaches and disrupted sleep. Therefore, it is important to look at all aspects of health when caring for an individual.

Holistic care is of great significance to healthcare professionals, but must also be applied in our day-to-day lives, especially with parents caring for growing children. Over many generations, parents have thought they are successfully raising children, ensuring they grow to their full potential. What many parents of past generations failed to understand, was that if a child’s mental health was not prioritized, they would never reach their full potential, health-wise. Thankfully, in modern times, the light being shone on mental health is urging more parents to place focus on their children’s emotional wellbeing.

Our children are our legacy. They are the future generation that will lead the world into prosperity and do the same with the generations to come. Therefore, it is important to ensure they grow up to be the best versions of themselves. Although mental health is often a neglected aspect of health, it plays the most important role in ensuring our forthcoming generation is capable of achieving their full potential. According to research, children who were exposed to some form of spiritual and emotional development in their early years grow up to be more resilient. They also face less risks of developing mental illnesses with time or falling into harmful habits like substance use and aggressive behaviours.

On the other hand, neglecting children’s mental health can lead to serious consequences. According to the American Psychology Association, an estimated 20 million children in the United States suffer from a mental disorder. The effects of these disorders on children are profound. For starters, children may begin to exhibit changes in behaviour and habits in the household. These may range from minor to more drastic behavioural changes. Moreover, undiagnosed mental disorders can find their way into the lives of children outside their household, too. These effects can range from poor academic performance in school, to difficulties in initiating and maintaining friendships.

I believe the best way to highlight the negative effects of neglected mental health is by sharing a story. This story is about Ruhi, who comes from a loving family, but struggled with her mental health. Unfortunately, her parents, overwhelmed with their own responsibilities and unaware of the signs of mental disorders, neglected her mental health. With time, Ruhi’s symptoms intensified, and she began exhibiting symptoms of anxiety, like nail biting and difficulty concentrating.

Sadly, these signs were dismissed by her parents as mere childhood quirks or temporary phases. As the symptoms progressed, Ruhi became increasingly withdrawn, isolating herself from friends and family, and neglecting her schoolwork. Her health, working in the way health does, severely deteriorated, even in other aspects. She began to experience frequent headaches, fatigue, and disrupted sleep. Finally, when Ruhi was sixteen, an observant teacher noticed her struggles and reached out to the school counsellor. The counsellor immediately recognized the signs of neglected mental health and reached out to her parents to initiate the appropriate care.

In order to place focus on your children’s mental health, you must be able to recognise the different disorders that they may be at risk of developing. We are now at a time where mental health screening is available and encouraged, and thankfully, there are multiple entities involved in raising a child. As the old African proverb says: it takes a village.

Observing changes in behaviour or warning symptoms is not only up to the parents, but can be brought to light by anyone in the child’s environment, like the teacher in Ruhi’s story or a guidance counsellor, for instance. Nowadays, thanks to developments in the health sector, mental health disorders can be recognized, diagnosed and managed in their early stages.

The times are constantly changing, and we continue to learn new lessons along the way. The important takeaway from my words should be this: it is important to take care of our children’s health when we are raising them, but we must not continue to neglect their mental and emotional wellbeing in the process, as physical health is simply no longer enough.

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