The stigma attached to mental health issues discourages many parents from accessing the help their children need. But help is available. The Child Guidance Clinic at the Branford Taitt Polyclinic is opened Monday to Friday, providing mental health care to children.

Psychiatrist at the clinic, Dr. June Price-Humphrey notes: “Mental health has a lot of stigma and it’s even worse when it comes to young people because no-one wants to say that my child has a disorder. People would rather say I have a really bad-behaved child than to say I have a child who needs help, but help is available.”

Children are referred by school principals, guidance counsellors and the judicial system but the psychiatrist pointed out that even without referrals, persons can access care. “Essentially, it’s an open service. We try to make it accessible so you don’t necessarily have to have a referral from someone else and therefore people can come, parents, caregivers, whoever cares for the child.”

The clinic is staffed by two psychiatrists and a nurse; and it liaises with other agencies to outsource some interventions such as anger management and academic challenges.

The psychiatrist explained the process once an appointment was made at the clinic. “At the first interview, we talk to both the child and the parent together and then separately to get an idea of what the challenges are. At the end of that first session we make a plan as to what would happen next.”

She said decisions would be made as to whether the child needed to continue treatment at the clinic, whether they needed to be referred to another agency or whether the situation could be co-managed with another agency.

“We also decide whether we need to work with the whole family, the parent and child, or the child predominately. There is no one pattern that fits every child because the problems are different.”

 The Child Guidance Clinic at the Branford Taitt Polyclinic provides mental health care to children. (Stock Photo)

There is a great deal of emphasis placed on privacy at the clinic. The doctor observed: “Sometimes adults seem to think that because you are a minor that you have no right to privacy. On the other hand, we don’t want a situation where the child feels that he or she has to hide to come and see the doctor as that creates a second set of stressors. So we work with the parents and child on an individual basis to determine what, if anything, needs to be disclosed and to whom.”

How do you know when a child needs professional mental health intervention? Dr. Price-Humphrey revealed: “Children with challenges present with changes in behaviour, that’s how a child shows that there is something wrong. Now why may that behaviour become inappropriate?

“It may be a mental health disorder, it may be a biological problem, it may be a social problem. So not everyone who comes to the Child Guidance Clinic has an illness or a disorder but most of them come with behavioural challenges.”

The psychiatrist said that social problems which negatively impacted children’s behaviour included abuse, bullying, violence in their environments as well as dysfunctional family settings.

Some children, she explained, presented with disorders such as attention deficit hyperactive disorder or ADHD… “and these are the ones that people recognise easily because they are very restless, they don’t settle, they’re talking too much, they’re running around.”

But, she added, alternatively, there were children who were not quite as restless but spent their time daydreaming, not doing their homework, always inattentive and people tended to dismiss them as “lazy or duncy”.

Social problems such as a dysfunctional family setting, abuse, bullying and/or violence can negatively impact a child’s behaviour. (Stock Photo)

Some children also had depressive disorders. “Many people don’t believe that children can become depressed. Sometimes, a parent will tell me ‘but just yesterday, she was laughing so she can’t have depression’. The thing about the young person is that they can still respond to their environment so I can have a young person who is telling me that they feel sad all the time, they have thoughts of harming themselves or they have actually cut themselves, they have thoughts of dying, but yet their friend comes by and says ‘let’s go to the movies, let’s play video games’ and they will do that and then the family will say ‘well, if she or he can do that, there’s nothing wrong’ with them,” Dr. Price-Humphrey said.

Other disorders which impact children include anxiety, aggression, conduct disorder which involves committing criminal acts such as theft, wandering, truancy and setting fires, as well as oppositional defiance where “everything is a problem. You tell them to turn right, they turn left, you tell them to sit, they stand. They just do the opposite of what everyone else wants them to do and they are frequently getting into trouble.”

What do you do as a parent if faced with these challenges?  Dr. Price-Humphrey advises: “The first thing is to recognise that there is a problem. We have a lot of situations where people say this child is just bad-behaved, indifferent, they just need more discipline, more lashes and so on.

“If you have tried your best with your child and you’re not getting anywhere, get advice from someone experienced in this area. Not every problem may be a mental health problem but if it’s challenging, don’t wait for the child to grow out of it. Often, dysfunctional children become dysfunctional adults and by then it’s harder to fix the broken adult.”

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