Many teenagers, who live apart from their parents in China, suffer from depression and other psychological problems, and aren't exposed to therapy, a recent study suggests.
The research was conducted by a global group of psychologists on more than 300 left-behind children across the country, between January and March this year. Questionnaires were given to the children and their families with the aim to grasp the magnitude of mental health issues and offer advice on social support mechanisms.
The report was released at the 21st IFP (International Federation for Psychotherapy) World Congress of Psychotherapy in Shanghai last month. The IFP is an organisation of national, regional, and school-oriented psychotherapy societies, with a goal to facilitate and promote international communication among the various schools, professional groups and cultures within psychotherapy, it said.
With more than half of the sample surveyed tending to show behavioural and emotional disorders, the experts urge families to take greater care of these children and provide them with medical and professional counseling when necessary.
Depression and paranoia are among top problems prevalent in groups of boys between the ages of 12 and 16, the survey finds. The inability or unwillingness to take instructions from adults also surfaces as a major concern in such families.
"The best care for children is from their parents. However, there are too many children who are not cared for by their parents. This is not good for their growth, especially psychological growth," said Zhao Xudong, a professor of psychology at the Tongji University in Shanghai.
A large number of left-behind children continue to live in rural areas long after their parents have left them to pursue jobs in cities. Grandparents and other elderly people in families look after these children but often lack the energy or resources to emotionally engage with such children.
Although mental health conditions of the children surveyed vary with age groups, girls between 6 and 11 years appear to emerge with the "most complex problem" profiles.
More than 33 per cent of them reported depressive behaviour but none sought psychological therapy, except for two girls, who had seen doctors over attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, the report highlights.
The lack of guardianship and familial emotional interactions, and ineffective prevention at home and schools have contributed to the problems, according to Zheng Yi, a pediatrician at the Beijing Anding Hospital of Capital Medical University. Zheng led the research.
"We found that the absence of awareness for mental health problems, and the shortness of mental health service providers to be important factors," Zheng said.
"Besides that, many parents tend to emphasis on physical health over mental health. They ignore the importance of emotional bonding to children's growth. In the face of mental health problems, they have no idea about where to turn and seek help."
According to Zhao, China should have more laws to protect such children, and enhance support systems to provide them psychological care.
Last year, the government brought in a new mental health law that emphasizes on treatment and prevention of disorders. Experts feel the new law offers an opportunity to society to help these lonely children.