x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Schools to open mental health clinics

Psychiatric clinics will be opened in school health centres under a plan to improve children's mental and physical health.

DUBAI // Psychiatric clinics will be opened in school health centres under a plan to improve children's mental and physical health. Experts say mental health problems are often not identified and are sometimes hidden by parents because of the stigma attached. Because of a lack of awareness and understanding, common psychiatric disorders such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are often mistaken as bad behaviour and the child is punished rather than treated for the condition.

Dr Fawzia al Jaziri, the director of school health at the Ministry of Health, said: "There are some reported problems with children and mental health but parents sometimes hide the information. They do not want to disclose them because of the stigma about mental health. We have a few statistics, but it is underreported and we do not have the whole picture." Dr Jaziri said ADHD was one of the most common problems experienced by children; around two children in every 30 will develop it.

"It goes undiagnosed a lot of the time," she said. "Parents may just think their child is not listening or responding and they punish them. The child will then feel guilty about it but does not understand his own behaviour. He is unaware of why he behaves the way he does." ADHD symptoms include a short attention span, restlessness, being easily distracted and fidgeting. These characteristics are often just mistaken as bad behaviour, Dr Jaziri said.

Humaid Mohammed Obaid al Qattami, the Minister of Health, stressed at a symposium this week the need to set up clinics fully equipped to deal with mental health issues in all school health centres. The ministry, which has jurisdiction over the northern Emirates, disclosed earlier that it would carry out a comprehensive review of children's mental and physical states to slow growing rates of obesity and improve their mental health.

Speaking at the symposium at the Al Baraha Hospital in Dubai, Dr Mahmoud Fikri, the executive director of health policies at the ministry, said the ministry had carried out training programmes to help teachers and medical staff deal better with children's mental health. "The school health programme is aimed at providing prevention and early detection of mental disorders by emphasising the necessity of teaching life skills, which enhance the health of school students and allow for a good environment for mental health," Dr Fikri said.

He also said a questionnaire form and an action plan were approved to identify major mental disorders students suffer from. Parents will fill out the questionnaire and the children will be examined by a doctor, with mental health and obesity highest on the agenda. "This will be followed by a thorough examination of data, on the basis of which the doctor will decide whether the student needs to be referred to the psychologist or to a psychiatrist," Dr Fikri said.

Pupils who took part in the Global School-based Student Health survey were aged 13-15 and came from Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah and the northern Emirates. munderwood@thenational.ae