Let’s be aware of mental health: Experts

Mental illness can push adolescents and youths down dangerous paths like suicide, drug addiction and getting involved in crimes

Manoj Kumar Roy, Md Shafiqul Islam, Kamal UA Chowdhury and Md Mokhlesur Rahman.Prothom Alo

Discussants at a roundtable on Monday said whenever one will be in frustration and depression, he or she must consult a mental health expert casting aside all hesitations.

If the mental illness is left without taking care of the mind, it can push adolescents and youths down dangerous paths like suicide, drug addiction and getting involved in crimes, they observed.

They also said families have to be aware of ensuring mental health of children, adolescents and youths.

The roundtable titled ‘Mental health of children and youth in the dynamic context: Challenges and plans’, was held at Prothom Alo office in the capital’s Karwan Bazar area on Sunday.

ADD International Bangladesh’s Community Based Mental Health Project, Dhaka University’s Nasirullah Psychotherapy Unit and Prothom Alo jointly organised it with support from Innovation For Wellbeing Foundation and Disabled Child Foundation.

Mental health experts emphasised on raising awareness in building a community-based mental healthcare through coordination between government and non-government organisations.

Helal Uddin Ahmed, associate professor at National Institute of Mental Health and Hospital was the keynote speaker at the event.

"All of us are now standing before a dynamic world in terms of political, socio-economic, technological advancement, urbanisation, climate change, peace-conflict and newly added Covid-19 pandemic related changes," Helal added.

These global changes have had an impact on the mental health, views, behaviors, beliefs, values and goals of the adolescents and youths.

Addiction towards drug and cellphone-like devices, suicidal and self-harming tendencies have also gone up, he continued.

Associate professor at the National Institute of Mental Health and Hospital, Helal Uddin Ahmed, further said, in 50 per cent of cases of mental illness starts showing up before the age of 14 years while in 75 per cent of cases it begins before 25 years.

Yet, as much as 94 per cent of the adolescents and youths having mental issues are remaining beyond treatment. There are not even a thousand mental health professionals in the country.

Speaking as the chief guest Manoj Kumar Roy, additional secretary (admin) at the health services division of health and family welfare ministry said that government and non-government agencies are separately doing a lot of work on mental health issues.

There just needs to be a co-ordination among the activities of the agencies to get better outcomes, he added.

He advised parents on spending time with their children and hearing of their comforts and discomforts with attention to maintain the mental health of adolescents and youths.

Presiding over the roundtable, ADD International Bangladesh’s country director Md Shafiqul Islam said that the mental healthcare issues need to be discussed on the community level.

In addition, the information of where to get help on government and non-government level has to be spread as well, he said.

Professor of clinical psychology and director of Nasirullah Psychotherapy Unit at Dhaka University, Kamal UA Chowdhury, said, research showed that four types of people stay away from seeking mental healthcare.

The list includes those who don’t know anything about mental health, those who believe it to be a punishment for sinning, those who go to shamans or witchdoctors instead of an expert and those who don’t know from where to get proper treatment for the lack of affordability, he said.

Md Mokhlesur Rahman, acting head of the bureau of health education under the Director General of Health Services stressed on maintaining children and adolescents’ mental wellbeing through recreational education.

He said that five thousand books will be distributed among schools in the current fiscal year, to raise awareness on taking care of mental health. Teachers will be teaching the book to students, two days a week.

Jena Darakhshani Hamadani, emeritus scientist at icddr,b said that some social practices are noticed being imposed on at the child development stage. Such as, it’s embarrassing for boys to cry, girls shouldn’t talk loudly etc. These practices affect the behaviors of children.

Assistant project director of Child Sensitive Social Protection in Bangladesh (CSPB) project under the social services department Md Emran Khan said it’s possible to prevent mental health risks of children through development of social work and involvement of social workers.

Founding executive director of Innovation for Wellbeing Foundation Monira Rahman said that youths suffering from mental issues do come to get help, if they find any scope.

Monira added, many people are haunted by suicidal thoughts. With proper advice and care, however, it’s possible to change suicidal tendency in a person.

Abdul Quayum, associate editor at Prothom Alo opened the session with his speech. He talked about how to overcome mental issues and advised on fixing the problems after identifying the challenges of it.

Founding executive director of Disabled Child Foundation Nasrin Jahan mentioned, there are necessities of special treatment arrangements for disabled people at the government mental health hospitals.

World Health Organization’s national professional officer (Mental Health) Hasina Momotaz said, people’s behavior and comments affect children and adolescents during the period of their emotional and physical change.

While speaking Md Taifur Rahman, deputy lead of the mental health branch of BRAC University’s institute of educational development (IED) said, it’s essential to ensure a lovely environment for children’s primary development.

Anchal Foundation’s research and development team leader Sayed Salman Haider said, suicidal tendencies have increased among some students for worries concerning frequent tests and test results.

Participating in the roundtable, a University of Development Alternative student from Cox’s Bazar Chenakkya Rakhine talked about the mental crisis he had to face for not having good friends.

Firoz Choudhury, assistant editor at Prothom Alo, moderated the roundtable.