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 September 26, 2003 




Help for the Hurting: Health care specialists learning new methods of treating childhood depression



The city was filled with red butterflies and red rain was coming down from the sky.

According to psychologist Karineh Sahakyan children of Gyumri who lost parents in the 1988 earthquake, see dreams like that.

"The earthquake has placed psychological pressure especially on children, who, in many cases, became silent and started talking less as a result of it," says the ethno-psychologist, Sahakyan. "During that time period we had worked with more than 1,000 children analyzing their dreams so that we could help them in some way, however, the situation was very odd. Children's dreams were mainly about nature and animals. They didn't see in their dreams the relatives they had lost. It looked like they were looking for salvation in nature."

Sahakyan says that those years almost everybody needed psychological assistance, however, there was extremely little help and mainly it was not a professional assistance.

"Especially residents of the disaster zone seriously need psychological assistance up to now," says Sahakyan. "The level of psychological knowledge has been very low up to now. And especially children, for whom even experienced specialists find it difficult to make a diagnosis, need high quality assistance."

However, as specialists from the French "Pains Without Borders" organization assure, it will soon become possible to make some corrections in the developed situation thanks to the "Alarm, Disaster, Child" method, which has already been used in different places of the world.

Since 2002 with the help of retraining lessons for pediatricians, nurses and psychologists the organization, which has started its activities in Armenia since 2001, tries to teach Armenian specialists the method of revealing depression among children on early stages.

A teacher of the method, psychologist Frederic Neter-Vardapetyan says the program "is a step for preventing mental disorders in the future."

Psychoanalyst Antuan Gednen a professor at the Paris Medical University says that in many cases specialists, who have no idea about this new method, cannot understand whether a child is lazy or he is extremely active or he doesn't like to sleep or he is in the retreating state of depression. According to the specialist, this method helps very much especially in detecting retreating or depressive conditions of children up to two years old because at that age children cannot speak and cannot express their worries and thoughts.

Gednen and other specialists were in Armenia earlier this month to observe the Pains Without Borders program and evaluate the mental health of children in Armenia.

"There are children who have aberrations, however, society describes them as lazy children," says Gednen. "First of all it must be clear whether a child expresses emotions and worries or he is completely in indifferent state. Besides, most of the children in such conditions lose weight. Games, which are of such an everyday importance, don't mean anything to them and they are sometimes touchy, sharp, nervous and weepy."
As part of the ADC program, specialists and parents carefully monitor a child's behavior and base therapy on those actions. Specialists also interact with the children during visits to see how they are behaving in unfamiliar environments and among unknown people.


"We have been retraining for approximately seven months with the help of this program," says pediatrician, head of the Department in the Gyumri Red Cross polyclinic Greta Avetisyan, who has been working in the field of pediatrics for more than 40 years. "This method gives opportunity for Armenian specialists to detect depressive situations, which we couldn't do before. We pay attention to everything starting from a child's face expression to his or her reaction and approach to different factors and situations."

Avetisyan assures that since Soviet times in Armenia no attention has been paid to children's mental state and to mental state in general and it, in its turn, left its traces on several defects present in the field of pediatrics.

"Before we paid no attention to mental state and it was possible that a child could have symptoms of retreat and aberration but we didn't notice them," says Avetisyan. "With the help of the Alarm, Disaster, Child method we can decide quicker what we should do and what must we do to extricate children from these hard conditions. We can already see the results of this method."

Avetisyan says that during retraining lessons that had been lasting for approximately seven months they together with the specialists of "Pains Without Borders" organizations conducted researches among 140 children with the purpose of finding out children's mental state. The diagnoses were made with the help of special tests.

"About 10 to 15 percent of children had different mental defects," says Avetisyan. "Numerous factors could cause depressions among children such as hard social conditions, conflict situations within families and the problem of being misunderstood. And we started to help children with talks, communications and sometimes we applied to the assistance of psychologists for achieving better and more fruitful results."

Professor Gednen assures that this program is very important and researches are conducted for making clear situation reigning in Armenia in this field. According to the specialist, there are possibilities that the program will be conducted in Armenia many years and be widened.

"Scientifically we cannot say for sure whether depression is in a threatening situation in Armenia because researches are still in process," says Neter-Vardapetyan. "However, we can think that the earthquake, Karabakh conflict, hard social conditions of the past years and huge number of refugees are the factors which can lead to the development of depressive situation in Armenia. In this case, such programs are of vital importance."

 


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