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Children in Finland increasingly treated for mental health issues

About 90,000 kids under the age of 13 suffer from mental health issues, an Yle survey found. Meanwhile, there's a shortage of care providers across the country.

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File photo. Image: AOP

A survey of psychiatric experts from university hospitals in the cities of Helsinki, Tampere, Oulu, Turku and Kuopio found that the majority of children in the country are doing well. However, for nearly the past two decades there's also been a steady increase in the number of children diagnosed with psychological issues.

The experts said they see clear divisions among two groups of children with mental health issues. There's one group increasingly being diagnosed and treated for minor or moderate mental health issues, while a smaller group is suffering from more serious mental illnesses that appear to be increasing in severity.

Cutting, a form of self-injury said to help control emotional pain, is usually carried out by people in their teens. But the mental health care workers said they've seen incidents of cutting by kids in primary school and said kids as young as 12 are now treated for serious issues like suicidal ideation.

Since the year 2000 the number of children being seen by psychiatrists has steadily increased, particularly over the last few years.

The Hospital District of Helsinki and Uusimaa (HUS) now cares for roughly two-and-a-half times more children with mental health issues than it did a decade ago.

Big day care groups, parent stress affects kids

The experts said there are several factors behind the increases.

According to HUS, small children are sometimes adversely affected by being placed in larger day care groups and also by changes to day care personnel. Meanwhile, older children sometimes suffer from the pressure of their parents' hectic schedules and the demands of parenthood.

Despite the observations, the experts said they cannot draw any conclusions over whether children are actually suffering more mental health issues than in previous decades, because the threshold to seek and receive care is lower these days.

Also, the care that children receive has improved, in part because caregivers' abilities to identify various mental health issues like ADHD, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, have also improved.

Generally, children in Finland who suffer from psychological issues receive counselling and psychotherapy. The most common mental health issues children deal with include anxiety, depression and obsessive-compulsive disorders.

Lack of caregivers in most of Finland

Due to a general lack of therapists in the rest of the country, access to mental health care was found to be best in the capital region, according to the survey.

Psychiatric care resources varied greatly outside of the country's southern Uusimaa region. In other areas, waiting times to see therapists can be unreasonably long.

The hospital workers said it is a positive development that mental health issues are being detected and treated earlier than they have in the past. However, they also said the increase has caused resourcing problems.

Even though there has been a steady increase in referrals and patients, there has not been a parallel increase in financial support for child psychiatric care.

HUS has called for initiatives aimed at schools and day care centres to help them more easily identify children with mild mental health issues and to intervene before they worsen.

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