Prevention of Mental Disorders: “From the Cradle” Perspective

If the child is able to successfully navigate through the perils of pregnancy and delivery (as described in my previous article), the first years of life are not devoid of potential challenges that could have direct or indirect implications on the mental health and wellbeing of the individual (eventually).
  •  We now know that children who are not taken care off from immediately after delivery have a higher risk of some mental disorders. As soon as a child is born, the child should be allowed to feed after delivery.

The brain of the newborn is very sensitive to low levels of glucose.  Depriving a newborn of nutrition during the first few hours of life can result in irreversible damage to immature brain cells resulting into long-term effects like seizures, learning disability, cerebral palsy and even behavioral problems (e.g., personality disorders).

  • We also know that children who grow up under difficult circumstances or adverse life situations have a higher risk of coming down with mental illness than children who grow up in loving, protective and nourishing situations.
  • Children who have not had the opportunity of bonding with their mother or a “mother figure” could develop problems of forming secure relationships as they grow older. These could evolve into personality issues which could later become the foundation of other disorders or relationship challenges that could eventually trigger mental disorders over time.    

The child’s development is assessed across the domains of physical, psychological/emotional and intellectual development. Each of these parameters is found to occur across a range for the age and for specific populations. Some children do better than others, while others are not as good as others. Any adverse experience could tilt the child to perform lesser than his/her innate potential in any of the domains. Therefore, there is a dire need of providing an enabling and nourishing environment for the growing child. This will guarantee the child’s attainment of his/her full potentials.

As we grow older, (theoretically), our personality tends to determine our behaviour when we are faced with diverse situations.  It is possible for some individuals to have experienced adverse life events which had significantly impacted their behaviour. This could result in them adopting means of coping with life which have unhealthy or negative outcomes referred to as “maladaptive”. Some of these could become disorders.

For instance, the abuse of alcohol and other substances that have the ability to influence brain function could be one of the outcomes of trying to cope with stressful life situations.

Asides the fact that some mental disorders run in families (due to the presence of genetic factors that are responsible for the illness), studies have shown that the genetic factor isn’t the only reason why some disorders are expressed in offspring. The expression of the illness will depend on environmental or situational factors that act as triggers for the illness.

  • Stress or major life events that are severe enough to interfere with our thinking or disturb our peace can be sufficient to cause a mental disorder.
  • Some individuals who have a serious physical illness or injury that interferes with the functioning of the brain could also begin to exhibit behavioral problems.
  • Trauma or stroke affecting specific parts of the brain could present with a specific behavioral pattern that is peculiar to the part of the brain affected with regards to the function or behaviour of the individual.

In summary, a lot of mental disorders can be prevented by the following deliberate actions.

  • Taking care of physical, nutritional, emotional (psychological) and social needs of every person from immediately after delivery through early childhood and beyond.
  • Identifying children who are born into difficult circumstances or situations and providing much-needed support for all their physical and non-physical needs for a better outcome of their circumstances.
  • Providing optimal care for individuals who are ill or who have suffered injury to their brain to ameliorate the impact of the illness or injury. This can minimize the risk of coming down with mental disorders as a result of the illness.
  • Giving necessary support to individuals who are passing through trying times. Helping them to be able to cope adaptively with the stress.

Prevention of mental disorders should begin from the cradle. everything we do or fail to do for our children will definitely have a long term effect on their mental health and well being. It can never be too early to start caring.

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Ola Ibigbami

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