The Greek Crisis And The Challenges It Poses To Children's Mental Health

17/02/2016 17:50 GMT | Updated 17/02/2017 10:12 GMT
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To understand the psychological climate in which children grown in modern Greece, you need to look at the dynamics of the family unit.

There is no doubt that the family is the first environment in which children learn about themselves and learn to interact with others. The family is the first "pool" from which the child finds "tools" to teach them how to accept and love themselves, to practice social skills, and develop strength and flexibility in the face of life's challenges.

This first stage for the child has recently been shaken by violent and intense changes. Research has recorded various of these changes. For example, a study conducted by the University Mental Health Research Institute (UMHRI) on teen students' health is revealing. The study, which included a sample of about 4,500 students and was completed in 2014, recorded some drastic changes experienced by the Greek family. Some of the most striking findings were:

  • In 2014, the percentage of adolescents who said they lived in single-parent families doubled from 5.5 percent in 1998 to 11.8 percent.
  • The percentage of youth who reported that their parents were unemployed and looking for work (14.6 percent) was five times higher than in 2002 (3.2 percent).
  • The percentage of adolescents who said that their family's economic situation was good decreased from 66.5 percent in 2006 to 48.1 percent in 2010.
  • Meanwhile, the percentage of teenagers who said they were satisfied with their life decreased from 69 percent to 60.1 percent between 2006 and 2010.

Equally alarming are the findings concerning bullying in Greece. In a survey conducted by the agency The Smile of the Child, 6.3 percent of adolescents in Greece have been victims of cyberbullying. According to the Greek Ministry of Education, one in 10 students have been exposed to a bullying episode (verbal or physical violence). Corresponding research conducted by the UMHRI in 2014 concluded that 8.5 percent of teenagers are victims to bullying-- at a rate of twice to three times per month.

We need to move away from the notion that mental health care is a mere "luxury" in the midst of a crisis.

At a deeper level, what such studies depict is the serious change to the parent-child relationship. For the Greek family, emotionally supporting children has become much more difficult because the parents themselves are experiencing great emotional difficulties. The mental health of parents, including their resilience and their emotional availability, has been greatly compromised.

Even if someone were not a mental health professional, they would have no difficulty in identifying the rise in uncertainty and the pervasiveness of insecurity in society and the Greek family in recent years. The parents who are now struggling to manage their own overwhelming uncertainty and their own anxieties find it increasingly difficult to contain and manage their children's stress. Parents have less and less mental room to listen to their children, to solve their problems, to reassure them. And at the same time, while the child shows latent and overt aggression among society, the parent feels helpless and incapable to effectively manage the situation.

We can therefore conclude that today, children are exposed to many stress factors, while their support system is increasingly vulnerable and precarious. Research confirms this reality.

However, to get the full picture of the state of children's mental health in Greece, we need to consider another piece of evidence-- this time hopeful. Research has shown that today's parents resort more and more to mental health specialists to seek help for themselves or their children.

The challenge for Greece and Greek society is enormous. More than ever, we need to invest in strengthening children's support systems and their mental health resources.

Data released by public mental health agencies shows that the percentage of people seeking help has doubled; a change that can be accounted for by the increasing mental burden in Greece, as well as the gradual weakening of the mental health stigma in our country.

Also positive is the fact that in today's Greece, there are valuable services that aim to help and inform children and parents, and provide psychological and psychosocial support. These services employ highly specialized and well-trained health professionals and volunteers, and they may yield significant results in particularly difficult circumstances.

The challenge for Greece and Greek society is enormous. More than ever, we need to invest in strengthening children's support systems and their mental health resources. We need to move away from the notion that mental health care is a mere "luxury" in the midst of a crisis.

Young Minds Matter is a new series meant to lead the conversation with children about mental and emotional health, so youngsters feel loved, valued and understood. Launched with Her Royal Highness, The Duchess of Cambridge, as guest editor, we will discuss problems, causes and most importantly solutions to the stigma surrounding the UK's mental health crisis among children. To blog on the site as part of Young Minds Matter email

This post first appeared on HuffPost Greece. It has been translated into English and edited for clarity.