Identifying and responding to at-risk students should now be easier for 25 secondary school guidance counsellors.
That’s because they have received special training to help them detect children in danger of becoming depressed, and they also now have a better knowledge of the services and resources to which students and families could be referred for immediate intervention.
They took part in a symposium today which was organised by the Psychiatric Hospital as part of activities to mark Mental Health Month. The one-day conference, held under the theme, Children Get Depressed Too: Our Children Matter, was held at the Pan-American Health Organisation in Dayrells Road.
While giving the opening remarks, Minister of Health Donville Inniss noted that the intervention was critical since not only did depression affect more people than any other mental disorder and was one of the world’s leading causes of disability, but the condition usually started at a young age.
“The fact that depressive disorder often starts at a young age provides us with direct insight into the types of strategies and interventions that should be developed and implemented, as well as the population groups that should be specifically targeted…
“In addition to reducing people’s functioning generally, it is often recurring. Given the impact that this condition is having on populations throughout the world, and in our own region, it is critical for all governments and civil society to take immediate steps to reverse the given trends,” Inniss added.
While pointing out that the knowledge gained should provide the guidance counsellors with some measure of confidence in referring students for care outside of the school setting, the minister noted that additional strategic interventions directed at children and adolescents were also needed to prevent depression and other mental conditions.
To reverse the trend, however, he also called for a comprehensive system of screening, early diagnosis and follow-up holistic management and care in an environment free from stigma and prejudice associated with mental illness. This, he stressed, was especially important for children since they were particularly vulnerable to environments that could be risk factors for the development of depression.
“If their living environment is not emotionally healthy, this can have a negative impact on the emotional development of the child. Parents themselves may be affected by mental disability and may not have the support to ensure that their children are reinforced with the protective factors.
“For children, family is the first source of support for emotional stability and mental health. If this source of support is fractured in any way, the child is left in a vulnerable position. It is then left up to the school and other social agencies to partner with parents to ensure that the care needed for their development is not compromised and that they are able to thrive,” Inniss cautioned.
Participants were given an overview of depression and psychological interventions and were exposed to the available resources in the management of depressed children. In addition to Inniss, other officials present at the opening ceremony included Acting Hospital Director, David Leacock, Senior Consultant Psychiatrist, Dr. Ermine Belle, and Principal Nursing Officer Victoreen Bryan.