The World Health Organization states 20% of of the world's children and adolescents have mental disorders or problems. Not only that but most develop a mental disorder before the age of 14. Stop for a second and think about what you would do if your son or daughter had a mental health disorder. If your a parent to be lucky enough to send them to a therapist, that may be the first course of action you take. But therapists can be expensive with each session costing £90 or more, or difficult to reach as waiting times can reach up to six months. So then, I ask you, what other options do you have?
Perhaps you will go online and search for information on how to approach depression. You may buy a couple of books on depression. And then where will you be?
Technologies today allow treatment to be taught in interactive ways. The un-engaging self help books are becoming a thing of the past. You can use augmented reality to desensitize a child from a phobia, for example. Say the child is afraid of heights so they put on Oculus Rift-like goggles and practice looking down a virtual reality drop that with each level gets higher and higher. This can also be used in more serious conditions such as social anxiety disorder which can be disabling to both children and adults. Virtual exposure to social situations can help desensitize sufferers and, when the treatment package is well-designed, these can be used by parents to help their children in a step-by-step guided way.
Now you may do those said things if you are one of the lucky few reading this blog post from a mac computer or a windows laptop but what if you aren't in such a great position? Regions of the world with the highest percentages of the population under the age of 19 have the poorest level of mental health resources. That seems obvious doesn't it. What do you think their options are? Most low and middle income countries have only one child psychiatrist for ever 1 to 4 million people and how extensive do you think their local libraries on mental health issues are?
Vikram Patel, psychiatrist and professor of international mental health at London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, offers his theories on how to help this situation. He believes reaching locals in desperate areas with other locals will be the most effective course of action. He prescribes teaching locals about mental health and how to treat it so that they can treat their neighbors if need be. This can also be supplemented with programmes delivered over mobile phones as those are very much available almost anywhere in the world. We at Virtually Free are working with Telefonica on one such programme for Brazil.
With such options such as Patel's neighbor to neighbor scheme, or the virtual reality, we hope that mental health treatments will soon become not only affordable and accessible, but also tailored to children very soon. If you have any suggestions or ideas about how mental health treatment for children could be carried out better, please feel free to leave a comment below! Let's get some ideas going...