Mental health concerns the little ones too

Jean-Benoit Legault, The Canadian Press

MONTREAL — Even the youngest can suffer from mental health problems, a problem that can last for years and therefore needs to be addressed, warns the Observatoire des tout-petits on the occasion of Quebec Mental Health Week.

It is estimated that half of the mental disorders that affect the youngest will persist into childhood if left untreated.

While much has been said about the impact of the pandemic and health measures on the mental health of children, adolescents and adults, the mental health of toddlers has received less attention.

“We tend to think it’s not possible. We say to ourselves my God, at that age they are much too young to experience these kinds of problems. However, this is not the case,” said Fannie Dagenais, director of the Observatoire des tout-petits.

The frequency of mental disorders in toddlers is comparable to that in school-aged children, the Observatory states. The situation is said to have been exacerbated by the social isolation of families, the stress associated with the pandemic, the many unforeseen changes in the lives of toddlers and the difficulties in accessing mental health care.

Mental health problems in toddlers can be more difficult to diagnose, especially since children are often unable to express themselves clearly. Even parents can have trouble distinguishing a quirk from a more serious situation.

There is therefore a risk that the rare data available on this topic may underestimate the true magnitude of the problem, as many health professionals prefer to wait until school starts before going to school.

“What studies in several countries are documenting is an increase in children’s anxiety and depressive symptoms, an increase in behavioral problems, a decrease in children’s attention spans and a decrease in the amount and quality of sleep, Ms Dagenais said. So all of these are ways in which mental health problems manifest in toddlers.

A Léger survey for the Observatoire des tout-petits in autumn 2020 found that just over half of parents believed the pandemic had had a negative impact on their child. For example, between 35 and 40% of participants testified that children were more irritable, angry and restless than they were before the pandemic.

prevention

Rapidly identifying delays and interventions in the first five years of a child’s life has a positive impact on their overall development, educational success, health and well-being. These positive effects would be felt up to 30 years after the intervention’s implementation, the Observatory warns in a press release.

“What’s important to understand is that toddlers’ mental health is built through interaction with the people around them,” said Ms Dagenais.

The rise in mental health problems in toddlers includes the financial stress some parents experience, she recalled.

If we want to prevent mental health problems, she continues, we benefit from creating the right conditions for these interactions to take place in a harmonious way, for example by reducing the stress of families as much as possible through measures of work-family balance.

It is also important that the child has access to a safe neighborhood, appropriate and affordable housing, and “a variety of community services that can encourage their development,” added the Observatory’s director, who provided an example of story time in the library. quotes .

“We know that it pays very well to intervene early in a child’s life because, due to the great plasticity of the brains of toddlers at that age, interventions are much more effective than when we deploy them later, Ms Dagenais recalled. . Finally. We have all the advantages of early intervention.”

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