Taking care of your child's mental health from conception

2010-03-15
THE PUNCH Newspaper-Niyi Odebode


Psychiatrists believe that parents can determine the status of their child right from conception. They are of the view that the food or drugs the parents, particularly the mother, eat, may eventually affect the child’s cognitive development in life.



The Medical Director of Federal Psychiatric Hospital, Yaba, Lagos, Dr. Harry Taiwo, in an interview with our correspondent confirmed this. The psychiatrist argued that raising an emotionally stable child began from conception.



Citing an example, Taiwo stated that a child, who was conceived by a drunken father and mother, could exhibit traces of unstable behaviour later in life.



Taiwo’s assertion is based on scientific findings. A study conducted by the Department of Special Education, University of South Florida, United States, revealed that low and moderate consumption of alcohol during pregnancy could cause learning and behavioural problems in children.



Medical experts often advise women planning motherhood to give up some caffeine, smoking, alcohol and over-the-counter medications.



One of the disorders that can result from a woman’s consumption of alcohol during pregnancy is Foetal Alcohol Syndrome. According to www.supreme.state.az.us, “It is a disorder characterised by growth retardation, facial abnormalities, and central nervous system dysfunction.



“These characteristics affect children for their entire life. FAS is not a genetic disease. It is caused by a woman’s use of alcohol during pregnancy. Foetal Alcohol Syndrome is 100 per cent preventable. A woman only needs to abstain from alcohol during pregnancy to prevent her child from developing FAS.”



Fathers’ behaviour has also been linked to mental status of children. For example, a research conducted by the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioural Sciences, University of Washington, Seattle, United States established a relationship between alcoholic fathering and intelligent quotients of children.



It stated that children raised by alcoholic consuming fathers were a “risk population in need of further scientific and clinical attention.”



Besides vices of parents, which affect children right conception, the kids themselves imbibe some habits which lead to mental illnesses. One of such bad habits is drug abuse.



A study by O.C.Ikeji at the Psychiatric Hospital, Benin, showed high rate of drug abuse among youths. According to the study published in African Journal of Drug and Alcohol Studies, in 2009, out of 6,556 patients that were seen for the first time between 1999 and 2002, 849 had drug-related cases and 601 were cannabis abusers.



“A substantial number (83 per cent) of these were young and presented with severe psychopathologies,” it added.



The need to curb mental illnesses among Nigerians, including youths, made authorities of the Federal Psychiatric Hospital, Lagos to establish community outreach programmes as part of their social responsibilies.



One of such programmes was a campaign tagged, “Say no to drugs,” which was held at Aje Comprehensive School, Lagos.



The Chairperson of the hospital’s Community Outreach Programme, Dr. Oluwayemi Ogun, during the event corroborated the medical director.



Ogun stated that a child’s mental retardation could result from activities of his or her mother during pregnancy.



She said, “There was a particular mother, who was advised against the abuse of a substance when she was pregnant. She turned a deaf ear to health workers. Eventually she gave birth to a child with a mental disorder.”



The campaign, which was focused on youths, was aimed at curbing rising cases of mental disorders among teenagers.



Explaining the object of the programme further, she said that as a result of large number of teenagers in the hospital, it was imperative to take the campaign to the grass roots.



Ogun said, “The community outreach team consists of professionals such as psychiatrists, psychologists and occupational therapists. They identify the needs of the society and address them.



“We decided to adopt a catch-them-young approach by going to schools, homes and other places, where children are found. We educate them on the dangers of taking substances and how it affects their brains.”



Ogun added that bullying could constitute a social problem. “When a child bullies and traumatises another child, it can cause mental disorders.



“Even the bullies themselves don’t get on well later. Some of them form gangs and start abusing substances. This can affect them mentally.”



Another member of the team, Mr. Kayode Noah, in an interview with our correspondent, said that many youths, out of frustration, took drugs.



He noted, “If you go to psychiatric hospitals, you will find out that people between 14 and 20 years are mostly admitted for drug-related cases. Many of them, as a result, have gone insane, hence the need to take urgent steps to check vices causing mental disorders.



“The abuse of substances such as alcohol and cigarette has rendered many youths incapacitated. Most of the youths do not know the implications of their actions. There is need to sensitise them on the dangers of drug abuse because they are future leaders.”



The essence of the campaign was not lost on the pupils of the secondary school, who said that it had created a lot of awareness among them on causes of mental illnesses.



One of them, Miss. Ester Gbagbeolu, said, “We have learnt a lot about mental illness— its causes and prevention. We have been advised against taking substances. The experts have counselled us on the need to stay away from bad groups and vices.



“We have also learnt that some sicknesses such as typhoid can cause mental illness if not treated well. They have explained dangers of taking drugs without prescriptions.”





 

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