‘Family knows best if child is depressed’

PETALING JAYA: While measures are in place to help children weighed down by depression or abuse, experts say family members can better determine if the young ones need help.

Unfortunately, many children do not get the help they need due to the fear of stigma, said experts, adding that most abuse cases went unreported.

“Public hospitals have a child protection unit that intervenes to protect the child if there is suspicion that the child is vulnerable to manipulation or abuse,” said Malaysian Mental Health Associa­tion deputy president Assoc Prof Datuk Dr Andrew Mohanraj.

“When cases involving children in vulnerable situations are brought to public hospitals, the child protection unit, headed by a medical social worker, is usually alerted.

“This may include keeping the child under close observation while assessments are carried out,” he said, adding that this meant that there would be restricted access to the children, including for the parent if he or she was under suspicion of abusing the child.

However, Dr Andrew said that in cases of mental health, he said stigma was a stumbling block to the child receiving help.

“Usually, when such services are accessed, it is either too late or (families come in) after spending a lot of money with traditional healers – often in vain,” he said, adding that it was more difficult to diagnose mental health problems in children as the young ones did not expres themselves like adults.

In abuse cases, he said, families generally underplayed issues as they might have their own definition of what constituted child abuse.

Assoc Prof Dr Anasuya Jegathevi Jegathesan said adults played a large part in helping a child in vulnerable situations.

The academic head of the Master’s in Counselling Programme at HELP University said the best help an adult could give a child with suicidal tendencies was to get the child to see a professional in the mental health sector and to give the child non-judgemental support.

She said that as a counsellor, she would inform the parents if a child confided in her that he or she was suicidal.

“(But) if parents refuse to acknowledge this, we can only hope that the child survives to get help when he or she is older,” she said.

Universiti Malaya Department of Psychological Medicine Assoc Prof Dr Muhammad Muhsin Ahmad Zahari said that at bigger hospitals with psychiatric staff, a multi-disciplinary team would be set up to treat the child once he or she was diagnosed with depression.

“Doctors, paediatricians, mental health professionals and social workers will join efforts to treat the patients,” he said.

Bukit Aman Sexual, Women and Child Investigation Division (D11) principal assistant director Asst Comm Ong Chin Lan said there were standard procedures when a child abuse report had been lodged.

“Depending on the nature of the case, like rape or incest, we will report to the Welfare Department who will decide where the child would stay,” she said.

In the past six months, there have been a number of cases of abuse and suicides involving children.

The Health Ministry recently revealed statistics that showed worsening state of mental health problems among students in Malaysia – from one in 10 individuals in 2011 to one in five in 2016.

A total of 4,652 child abuse cases were recorded between 2015 and 2016 with the bulk of these being physical and sexual abuses, said Deputy Women, Family and Community Development Minister Datuk Azizah Mohd Dun.

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