Get to know the factors that can increase risk of mental health problems in children. Lack of sleep is one of them.

Dear parents, do not ignore your child's mental health. Mental health problems like depression and anxiety disorder are also common in children. Below are some risk factors for mental health issues in children and how parents can do protect their child's mental wellbeing.

Factors that can increase risk of psychiatric disorders in children

Air pollution: Several studies have linked air pollution to children's mental health. For example, a study published in Environmental Health Perspectives in September 2019 indicated a link between exposure to ambient air pollution and increased symptoms of psychiatric disorders, especially anxiety and suicidality, in children.

Another study by Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center had found self-reported depression and anxiety symptoms in children associated with early life exposure to traffic related air pollution (TRAP). The findings were reported in Environmental Research.

Lack of sleep: Getting adequate sleep is important for everyone, but it is more so for children as their brains are developing. For children between 6 to 12 years, 9-12 hours of sleep is recommended. A study from the University of Warwick found shorter sleep duration associated with depression, anxiety, impulsive behavior and poor cognitive performance in children aged 9-11 years. Reported their findings in the journal Molecular Psychiatry in February 2020, the researchers also highlighted that increasing pressure from schools and longer screen time are causing sleep disturbances in children and adolescents.

Social media: This is being considered as another potential cause for a rising prevalence of low mental wellbeing among children and youth. Several studies have highlighted the association between social media use and increase in mental health problems, such as anxiety, depression and suicidality.

Tips to improve your child’s mental health

There is not much you can do to reduce the effects of air pollution on your child's mental health, but you can help improve their sleep quality and keep a check on their social media use. Below are three important things you can do to protect your child's mental health.

Add more fruit and veggies to their diet: Children who consume more fruit and vegetables have better mental wellbeing, stated a study from the University of East Anglia. It suggested that good quality nutrition should be made available to all children before and during school to optimise their mental wellbeing, by establishing better public health strategies and school policies.

Let them enjoy adventurous play: Don't stop your child form engaging in adventurous activities, like climbing trees, riding bikes, jumping from high surfaces. Experts say such activities help them become build resilience, which in turn help prevent mental health problems. In fact, a study led by researchers at the University of Exeter found that children who spend more time outside engaging in adventurous play had lower symptoms of anxiety and depression, and they were also happier during the Covid-19 lockdown.

The study, published in Child Psychiatry and Human Development, highlighted that children and young people should be given freedom and opportunities to encounter some fear, uncertainty, challenge and risk during their play time as these things positive impact on their mental health and emotional well-being.

Green space is important for your child: Take your children to the park often, grow plants with your child, let them spend some good time with nature. Children who grow up with greener surroundings have lower risk of developing mental disorders later in life, a study from Aarhus University, Denmark, concluded. The study appeared in the Journal PNAS in February 2019.

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