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Childhood depression: A phantom surge

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I had at one point taught in a school where I was opportune to meet children with their distinctive peculiarities. Some, I vividly remember, while some are hazy in my head due to the duration of time from then till now. So, when I heard the news about one of the obviously sound pupils sharing her suicidal thought with her younger brother, who had grown accustomed to the talk with her sister, it broke my heart. She didn’t deserve that; no child should ever be pushed into that state of depression.

Before the story of the girl broke, I and my friends had earlier shared a part of our childhood experience, which brought about the issues bothering on suicide. We laughed off the part where we had at a point in time had thought about suicide but couldn’t get through with it. We laughed it off and pegged at being silly kids who wanted things handed to them on a platter disregarding the severity of the issue which we had lightly brushed aside,

However, tens of thousands of children are being faced with such thought on a daily basis in Africa but is unattended to probably because of the way we are built, to give orders to children and have them not ask a question or cage their thoughts or rather classified as the lesser human so their emotions or opinion do not matter. The chauvinistic ego of being elders has in many ways done a lot of damage to children.

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These days, mental sickness has become more prevalent in our society. It hasn’t been absent but now, many circumstances have triggered the distortion in human’s mental space. According to the American Psychiatric Association, Mental sickness is health condition involving changes in emotion, thinking or behavior (or a combination of these). Mental illnesses are associated with distress and/or problems functioning in social, work or family activities.

The most common form of mental illness is depression. In Nigeria today, many young adults have resorted to taking their lives due to this morbid sickness. This is due mainly to the unavailability of quid, inability to conform to the social norm being represented on social media and so on.

Depression has become rampant in the Nigerian society, probably owing to the fact that the standard of living keeps skyrocketing, leaving a lot of people without hopes of making ends meet. Those with steady income have become unemployed due to socio-economic downturns.

Unnoticed are the increases in the number of children who have become riddled with the hounding sickness, owing to issues bothering on parenting and bullying by their peers.

It becomes very hard to notice a child going through depression due to the ever-changing phases, which come with them transitioning from an age facet into another which truly comes with different attitudinal change in composure, emotions and reasoning pattern. Hence, it becomes somewhat difficult to notice a child going through troubles.

Many factors contribute to childhood depression, which is derived from inability to address issues that bruises the self-esteem of the victim, either by peers, older relatives, teachers or parents. The predominant cause of childhood depression is bullying, mostly from school.

Studies have shown that children that are bullied are most likely to have suicidal thoughts than those who are not. Many a time, children are being emotionally abused by their peers in school and unaddressed abuse sometimes leads to depression, which may plunge into suicide.

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The school bodies are pivotal in the fight against bullying by blocking the loopholes and becoming more pronounced and consistent about the rules when it comes to matters on bullying. Perhaps it is time for the Lagos State Government to disrupt the upheaval before it becomes a craze snowball.

Another factor that is likely to plunge a child into childhood depression is parenting. In time past, different parents have their preference when it comes to upbringing. In some homes, the female child is responsible for everything domestic, while the male child gives the rules irrespective of the age.

Some parents believe that it is the sole duty of the last child to take on all errands in the house, while others thrust the burden of the house on the first child irrespective of the gender. More often than not, a child being exposed to either form of upbringing, feels the weight and most times interprets this form of upbringing to the emotional feeling of being unloved.

An even bewildering factor is the parents’ inattentiveness or attribution of these perturbed upbringing processes as a form of training, without recognizing the fact that the age at which the child is being subjected to accepting responsibilities is grossly unripe.

The question now is: At what point do parents need to know when training or upbringing is becoming too overbearing? Generally, Africans regard a militia form of upbringing as training. This is deep-rooted in our culture. However, advocacy goes a long way in re-orientation. When a child becomes a bit rebellious, that is a red flag for parents to know that something is amiss.

In order to effectively manage depression among children, stakeholders need to take a cue from the Lagos State Government, which in 2020, started a laudable initiative via the creation of a Mental Health Wellness Centre for public servants in the State. This is to manage complications arising from mental health.

A similar facility could also be provided for children with acute signs of depression. Similarly, mental wellness can be inculcated in schools to quickly identify and treat a child going through such a dreadful phase.

Detecting childhood depression can be identified by paying close attention to a child. A lingering unexplainable switch in a child’s pattern in social, academic activities is often a signal that a child needs to be taken care of.

Before ostracizing that child due to your inability to understand him/her, please make sure you are not a contributory factor to the surge in childhood depression in our clime.

Otuyemi is of the Features Unit, Ministry of Information & Strategy, Alausa, Ikeja.


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