HPA Magazine 9
I describe myself to the youngest children I meet at any given time, in my role as a child psychiatrist, as a “doctor who helps solve problems”, those “things” that they can hardly explain, but that make life more difficult and unhappy. I explain to them that I am a “feelings” doctor. That’s the moment when they smile and can tell me why they are there.
Mental health depends on a positive balance of our central nervous system, measured by the emotions we feel. In his latest book, António Damásio talks about this, about emotions as the expression of the homeostasis of our brain.
Specifically, the development of an individual begins even before birth, evolves during early childhood, school age and reaches maturity at the end of adolescence which, nowadays, is believed to be around 23-25 years of age.
Along these different phases, “assaults” to development can occur, resulting in developmental delays in early childhood that can jeopardise the mental and physical health of the child. At school age, the difficulties can be felt both emotionally and behaviourally, in learning and performance in the context of education.
With the approach of puberty (adolescence), young prepubescent and post-pubescent youths can present an array of symptoms that can be the first sign of mental health impairment. These symptoms range from reactive patterns to emotional and social contexts in their environment, to the emergence of more organised psychiatric clinical conditions. These can take more pronounced turns throughout adolescence and in the transition to adulthood.
PRAGMATICALLY, OF THE WARNING SIGNS THAT CAN BE USEFUL TO PARENTS AND HEALTH TECHNICIANS, I EMPHASISE:
In early childhood: children who do not develop as expected or with atypical development, i.e. reaching the psychomotor developmental milestones late or in a different way; children who show difficulties in sensorial stability (reacting to textures, intensity of sounds and/or temperatures in an atypical way); children who reject new contexts, showing this by extreme tantrums, crying or inhibited behaviour or withdrawal from relationships with others (not playing, not speaking, avoiding eye contact, shunning all interaction).
AT SCHOOL AGE AND ADOLESCENCE
It is important to always be alert whenever there is a curtailment in the functioning of a child or adolescent, especially difficulties in sleeping (insomnia or hypersomnia), loss of appetite, tendency towards social isolation, difficulties in concentration and refusal to go to school. Also relevant are symptoms of anxiety, depression, or an increase in aggressive behaviour towards others or themselves.