An important discussion about the mental health of children and young people in Croatia

The committees of the Croatian Parliament – the Committee for Gender Equality and the Committee for Family, Youth, and Sports – organized a discussion on the mental health of children and young people last week. Main stakeholders participated in the discussion – representatives from the hospital system, schools, and academia, as well as the Ombudsman, representatives of the relevant ministries, and the Croatian Institute of Public Health. The discussion was chaired by MPs Marija Selak Raspudić and Vesna Vučemilović.

The topic of suicide was in focus, that is, indicators of the increase in suicide attempts by children and young people. In the discussion, the importance of protecting and preserving the mental health of children and young people was emphasized several times. The suicide attempts of children and young people, which are on the rise compared to the previous year, have been of particular concern recently.

Child psychiatrist and head of the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry of the Osijek Clinical Hospital Center, Katarina Dodik Ćurković expressed concern about the situation they witness in their daily practice. She highlighted the problem of the lack of child psychiatrists and inpatient care in most of Croatia, but also the increased number of initial treatments and day hospital treatments. They also state that, in addition to suicide attempts, there is a noticeable increase in numerous other risk behaviors such as self-harm, aggression, eating disorders, consumption of psychoactive substances and various addictions, and peer violence.

Psychiatrist Tihana Jendričko, head of the Department of Psychotherapy at the Vrapče Psychiatry Clinic mentioned the problems that adolescents undergoing treatment face in their families – “These children and young people do not have a sense of connection and support in the family, and they often feel that no one understands and loves them, and that is why it is important to us providing support to parents and children”.

Nataša Jokić Begić, a professor at the Department of Clinical Psychology at the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences in Zagreb, pointed out the fact that the mental health of children is threatened on a global level and that one in five children suffers from mental disorders, while the representative of the Croatian Psychological Society, Ljiljana Mikuš, referred to the importance of adopting a risk reduction strategy for certain groups and strengthening protective factors for children’s mental health. In addition, she emphasized the importance of starting programs that would be aimed at strengthening the role of teachers, parents, and educators, and at acquiring social and emotional skills in order to recognize the symptoms of trauma and problems in the field of mental health.

The unquestionable importance of preventive action, multi-sectoral cooperation, and multidisciplinary approach, as well as timely action in various crises and the implementation of effective interventions to strengthen social and emotional competencies, were highlighted.

Professor Danijela Štimac Grbić, Work Package 2 leader in JA ImpleMENTAL and leader of the country coordination team for Croatia, took part in the discussion in front of the Croatian Institute of Public Health. She presented the information that in 2021, the number of hospitalizations due to self-harm increased, as well as the number of registered suicides. Also, she emphasized the importance of Croatia’s participation in JA ImpleMENTAL, especially in terms of suicide prevention, i.e., the implementation of elements of SUPRA.

In the context of the prevention of mental disorders and improvement of mental health, as well as the prevention of suicides, the new Strategic Framework for the Development of Mental Health 2022-2030, which should be adopted soon, is especially promising. Dunja Skoko Poljak, the representative of the Ministry of Health and the MS Policy Committee for Croatia within JA ImpleMENTAL, spoke about the Framework and emphasized the importance of its implementation.