Around 20 percent children and adolescents around the world are suffering from mental health disorders, according to the figures from the World Health Organisation (WHO), and Croatia falls within that average.
The figures were presented at a roundtable on the topic, organised on Tuesday by the Croatian Health Insurance Fund (HZZO) and the Croatian Institute for Public Health (HZJZ) on the occasion of the World Mental Health Day, observed on October 10.
There is no research in Croatia which would encompass wider population, said Ljubica Paradzik of the Psychiatric Hospital for the Children and Youth, but added that the hospital had conducted research in 2015 and 2016, in cooperation with the City of Zagreb, on five-year-olds in eight preschools, and on six-graders (12-year-olds) in 15 schools.
The results showed that some 10 percent five-year-olds suffered from some form of mental illness, while increased or border figures were observed in some 19.3 percent 12-year-olds, with some 12 percent exhibiting elevated results for depression.
Children and youth mental health has been neglected in Croatia for decades, because corners are always cut where children are concerned, and saving on mental health is the easiest solution, said Gordana Buljan-Flander, head of Zagreb’s Child and Youth Protection Centre.
Parents have no one to turn to for help, because experts are scarce. For example, in the Child and Youth Protection Centre in Zagreb, the waiting list is so long that people are now scheduled for appointments in December.
Some studies show that some 25 percent of mental illnesses begin by the age of seven, while 50 percent begin by the age of 14, but they often stay undiagnosed, resulting in adults dealing with mental health disorders.
“We don’t recognise children’s difficulties and problems, we don’t see anxiety, we don’t recognise depression, destructive and self-destructive attitudes in children, we don’t react to bullying, we don’t see abused children,” Buljan-Flander said.
Research has shown that every fifth child in Croatia was sexually abused, 30 percent were physically abused or severely punished, while 30 percent were emotionally abused, she said.
“Of course those children are at higher risk of suffering from difficulties later. If we don’t recognise them at preschool and elementary school age, they will experience difficulties later in life,” she added.