Experts sound alarm bells for children’s mental health in Czechia
The number of children who require mental health intervention is on the rise here in Czechia. Forty percent of ninth graders show moderate signs of depression, and last year data from the Institute of Health indicated that there were over 4,000 hospitalizations of patients under the age of 19 in acute beds, almost twice as many as 10 years ago. Jana Karasová, a reporter with iRozhlas.cz who has covered this story, explained the situation to me
“For a long time, we have known that in the Czech Republic there is a shortage of psychiatrists, but what has happened in the last few years, is that there has been an increase in patient numbers, especially when it comes to teenagers and children. Finally, this year we have the first survey of the well-being of ninth graders, and it proved that every third teenager or ninth grader would benefit from professional support or help, and that 40 percent of them have signs of depression or anxiety.
“When it comes to the numbers of psychiatrists in hospitals but also in ordinary care, there are new numbers released by the office of Czech health information. It counts not only the number of every individual doctor, but also how these doctors are employed. Even though we see that there could be about 150 doctors focussed on psychology for children and teenagers, when we look at the employment numbers, there are only about 74 of them.”
Is there a reason why this is an area that we’re really lacking in the availability of doctors?
“The main reason is that we don’t have enough new doctors that would be focussing on this area. Half of the current doctors are fairly old and are leaving the profession because of their age. When we look at the numbers of new doctors, every year we only have two to six newly accredited doctors who can work in this area.
“This has been the same pattern over the past 15 years. In the new numbers we got from the Ministry of Health, there was a small deviation in the year 2019, when there were supposed to be more accredited doctors, but this does not influence the total numbers of doctors and their area of employment.”
What experiences are parents reporting right now about their children’s mental health?
“Another feature that impacts the increased number of children who need help is the awareness around mental health now. The lack of doctors available results in many children getting the help they need much too late. In order to get them better, it then requires much more work than if there was prevention work done or earlier intervention.
“Even when parents notice that something is happening with their children, they struggle with long wait times to get an appointment with psychiatrists.
“I have talked with some parents, and they described how last autumn when they were trying to find psychiatrists for an appointment, they had no chance to get an appointment for that same year, and many offices were not even making reservations for the coming year. This situation has not changed much.
“This year for example, one of the heads of the psychiatric units in Liberec told me that if it was a non-acute case, patients could now get an appointment for March of the following year. But by that moment, children could decrease in their well-being, and then early intervention is not possible anymore, so they require more care. Parents are struggling to cover this time while awaiting professional help, and they know something is wrong with their child, and some of them are even having to monitor and care for their children 24 hours a day.”
Is there any connection with the Covid pandemic and children experiencing isolation from their friends and peers? Was this a factor in the numbers going up?
“Yes, in a way we have seen a surge in more cases after Covid, but we don’t have the number to prove that the symptoms were lower before Covid. What happened during Covid was not only isolation, but people became more open to talking about these issues. So it’s really difficult to differentiate how much the contribution goes to the Covid conditions, and how much it’s increased because of more awareness and less stigma, which still prevails, but things are changing in this matter.”
What steps is the government taking to rectify this problem? I read that the state is covering the costs of education for child psychologists, but is there anything else they are doing?
“The education is the main and almost only focus of the current Minister of Health. He has promised that there will be more acute beds for children and teens who are in acute condition, but the numbers have not been provided by the Ministry of Health if this has already increased. So the only step is the support of the education. The Minister also said that it is upon the schools and universities to get more education, and not for him to tell them how to structure these programs. So there really isn’t much response, and the National Institute for Mental Health is trying to do some prevention campaigns, and the Ministry of Education is stating that they are supporting well-being and mental health programs at school. The Psychiatrists Union is also saying that they are working on a new strategy, but this has not yet been published.”