Keeping young minds happy

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Awareness of young people’s mental welfare is essential to their overall well-being

Students in Dubai are sitting a very important test this month, the third annual Dubai Student Wellbeing Census.

The five-year project has been designed by researchers from the South Australian Department for Education and trialled to make sure it’s relevant to our school kids.

Online survey

The confidential online survey asks students about their social and emotional wellbeing; relationships in school and at home; physical health, lifestyle and after school activities.

Last year’s results showed that 81 per cent of Dubai’s school students were ‘happy’ overall.

The factors influencing how happy a young person is will vary individually, according to the DHA’s Consultant Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist at Rashid Hospital, Dr Nadia Dabbagh.

We talk about diabetes, we talk about asthma, but we don’t talk about this and it’s something that’s linked to mortality, which is what healthcare is all about. 

– Dr Ammar Albanna, the President of the Emirates Society for Child Mental Health

“Their sense of well-being will be influenced by their genetic make-up, personality, early experiences and relationships,” she says.

“For younger children their sense of self-esteem and well-being comes mainly from their key attachment figures, their parents and caregivers,” says Dr Dabbagh. “As they move into adolescence, the influence of peers and other role models like teachers, relatives, and celebrities becomes greater.”

A project of the scope and scale of the census shows just how important young people’s happiness is to the Dubai government.

Nationally, the UAE government also sponsors a large-scale initiative: the Global Happiness and Well-being Policy Report, launched this year at the World Government Summit in Dubai.

Dr Ammar Albanna, the President of the Emirates Society for Child Mental Health believes that, as a society, we can’t pay too much attention to the happiness of the youngest members.

For younger children their sense of self-esteem and well-being comes mainly from their key attachment figures, their parents and caregivers.

– Dr Nadia Dabbagh, Consultant Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist at Rashid Hospital, DHA

He says up to 20 per cent of children experience mental disorders and most conditions diagnosed in adults, start in childhood.

“Around 5-10 per cent of children worldwide have depression,” says Dr Ammar. “Whenever I talk about it, people are shocked.”

It may be difficult to recognise depression in young children, especially as signs will be different in each child.

“In younger children they may change how they play, not want to go out, not want to go to school, their appetite or sleep may be affected. Sometimes it presents as physical pain: headaches, stomach aches,” says Dr Dabbagh.

“In older children it is similar but they are more likely able to express verbally that they are depressed,” she says. “The key feature of depression is a persistent loss of enjoyment or ‘anhedonia’ and this is different to normal sadness, which is expected after losses or set-backs,” says Dr Dabbagh.

If asking questions, it should be in a non-judgmental way, with sensitivity.

“Sometimes an empathic ear, warmth and encouragement and thinking through problems that are on their mind at home are sufficient,” she says.