The Yangtze River Delta Region Children and Adolescents' Mental Health Enhancement Alliance was recently established in Shanghai, aiming to help youths manage their emotions and stress levels when dealing with others.
Experts from the alliance, based at Xinhua Hospital in Shanghai, said there has been a rising need for children to obtain psychological support over the past few years and that the COVID-19 pandemic is one of the main reasons behind an increase in mental health problems.
Sixty-three hospitals and some teachers in charge of students' mental health from educational institutions in Shanghai and the provinces of Zhejiang, Jiangsu and Anhui became inaugural members of the alliance. They hope to provide early detection and intervention for children who have psychological difficulties and improve the overall mental health of those under 18.
Zhang Jinsong, director of the clinical psychology department at Xinhua Hospital Affiliated to Shanghai Jiao Tong University School of Medicine, said there are currently fewer than 20 psychiatrists specializing in children's mental problems in Shanghai. She said most hospitals treat adult cases but lack experience in dealing with juveniles.
Within the alliance, experts from the children's psychology department at Xinhua Hospital and the children and adolescents department at the Shanghai Mental Health Center have teamed up to design mental health intervention plans for children in kindergartens, primary schools and middle schools in line with their ages.
"The participants will learn how to help children recognize and understand their own emotions and deal with various situations, such as conflicts between peers, academic pressure, conflicts with parents and public emergencies, in appropriate and positive ways," Zhang said.
She explained that some children may suffer from violent emotional outbursts while taking more classes online and spending more time at home with parents due to the pandemic.
Research conducted by Xinhua Hospital showed that children suffering from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder experienced a deterioration in their emotional states, had more conflicts with their parents and increasingly struggled to focus amid the pandemic.
Zhang said that teachers and parents usually pay more attention to children's behavior rather than their emotions.
"But very often, problematic behavior such as skipping school comes from their emotions when they encounter a difficult situation－for example, a conflict with a classmate," she said.
Children aged between 7 and 12 screened for emotional and behavioral issues accounted for between 4.7 percent and nearly 26 percent of all children exhibiting such problems, according to research released by the Shanghai Mental Health Center in 2018.
The alliance will hold seminars, workshops and lectures online and offline every month for more than 100 front-line doctors who are members to help them screen and treat children with mental challenges.
Zhang said that the teachers in the alliance will be asked to pass on skills to those in charge of students' psychological health in schools.
"We remind parents and schools to pay attention to children's holistic, long-term development and help them learn to adapt to social changes and new environments instead of encouraging them to focus only on academic learning and competitions," she said.