Muscat: Nearly 5,000 children, up to age 11, have been treated in government institutions for mental health issues, according to the latest statistics from the Ministry of Health (MoH).
The annual 2016 report by the Ministry of Health detailed mental health concerns and total visits to psychiatric clinics at MoH institutions, and found that “there were 4,991 cases of children between the ages 0-11, of which 3,386 were girls and 1,605 were boys.”
Additionally, for ages 12-19 and 20-44, the total visits were 4,978 and 51,190, respectively. In all three ages groups, there were more cases of visits among women, than men. “Between the ages of 12-19, 2,513 were girls and 2,465 were boys, while there were 31,805 female cases, compared to 20,385 males between the ages of 20-44,” noted the report.
In 2016 there were 150 more cases, compared to 2015, in which total visitors reached 99,063. With regards to governorates, North Al Batinah saw the highest number of visits, with 23,938, followed by Muscat with 20,710. On the other hand, Al Buraimi reported only 21 cases.
The reason for visits included “mental and behavioural disorders due to drug or substance uses, delusional disorders, stress related disorders, mental retardation, and emotional disorders during childhood and adolescence,” MoH’s annual report revealed. The increase in the number of cases could be due to the change in society’s views regarding mental health, according to experts.
Dr. Muna Al Shekaili, head of the department of child and adolescent psychiatry at Al Masarra hospital, noted, “There has been a significant increase in the number of cases received by the hospital, from 650 cases in 2014, to 2,473 cases in 2017.”
Al Masarra Hospital is the only specialty hospital for psychiatry in the Sultanate, with 245 beds.
“Generally, there is a large increase in awareness, which has led to a rise in the number of cases we receive. Nowadays, parents bring their children to the hospital for treatment as soon as they notice any abnormal behaviour,” said Dr Al Shekaili. The ministry has been carrying out a number of campaigns to raise awareness about psychological conditions.
The Sultanate has come a long way with regards to how it portrays and deals with mental health. Today, most hospitals in the Sultanate have a mental health clinic, she added.
“With regards to Al Masarra Hospital, six year ago there was one paediatrician, who was not a specialist in adolescent mental health. But today we have specialist doctors, and teams in teenage psychiatry,” noted Hanan Al Samri, Senior Nurse at Al Masarra Hospital. She added, “There needs to be a stronger cooperation between the Ministry of Health, Education and Social Development, in order to improve services for children’s mental health.”
Modern lifestyles have also contributed to the emergence of new psychiatric conditions not previously seen.
“One of the strangest cases we encountered in the clinic was a teenager who spent more than 21 hours per day playing video games, and would sleep only when he collapsed,” said Al Shekaili.
There are a number of mental disorders that can be easily observed, unlike disorders such as anxiety and depression, which may persist with a child for a long time and worsen into critical stages.
“Parents can observe a number of signs to discover whether their child is suffering from a mental illness, such as if a child is between the age of three to nine and is afraid of darkness and of sleeping alone, or if the child suffers from insomnia or is afraid to be in new places,” Al Shekaili said.
“Other signs include a sudden increase or decrease in appetite, or if a child who has no energy has suicidal thoughts, or suddenly changed their personality from being quiet to displaying aggression towards themselves and others.
“We received a case of a child with schizophrenia. The case began when he was a student who excelled in school academically, but was socially isolated and very quiet. His parents never noticed, which led to his condition developing into depression and hallucinations, and ultimately a diagnosis of schizophrenia,” said Hanan.
In this case, the diagnosis could have prevented the worsening of the disease if the parents were more aware of the child’s mental health in the initial stages.
There are a number of causes that lead to mental health disorders. “Children begin to hurt themselves to draw parents’ attention to their psychological problems and stress,” noted Al Shekaili.
Al Samri, who has an MA in child and adolescent mental health, noted, “The main causes for physiological issues in teenagers are the bad company they keep, social issues, divorce or the absence of a parent, lack of communications between a parent and child, and a lack of activities for the child during their free time. “
Al Samri added, “The most common reason amongst the cases received at Al Masarra hospital are caused by sexual, emotional or physical abuse in addition to depression, anxiety and even genetics.”