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Frontpage News 2017 “I need to get my life on track”

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Art painting is offered as a therapy at the new Children’s mental health center in Tallinn. Children often find it easier to express emotions through art. Photographer: FMO / Maria Knoph Vigsnaes

“I need to get my life on track”

“I struggle with panic attacks and to create routines. Here, I am surrounded by educated, medical staff that knows how to act. I need to get back on track.” These are the words of 14-year-old Kathriin, one of the patients at the new Children’s mental health center in Estonia.

In a colorful hallway in a new department at the children’s hospital in Tallinn, mentally sick children and youth are receiving psychological and psychiatric help. This is where Kathriin (14) and Vlad (16) are. Both struggling with panic attacks and anxiety. Both determined to get better.

“A good place with good people”

16-year-old Vlad started struggling with psychological problems at the age of 12, but he wanted to fix himself. After staying at the mental health center in Tallinn for one week he is more optimistic about receiving help.

“I think this is a good place because there are a lot of good people and medical staff that takes care of us - they are really friendly. I speak Russian and they speak Estonian, I thought it would be a problem, but we are able to communicate,” says Vlad.

He lives in the newly built mental health center at the Children’s hospital in Tallinn.

In Estonia, mental health problems among children and youth are on the rise. According to the statistics of the Estonian National Institute for Health Development, the country’s youth are struggling more than youth of other EU Member States. In 2015, the rate of newly diagnosed psychiatric cases among children age 0-19, was 1 966 per 100 000.

With the project ‘Establishing children’s mental health center’, financed through the Norway Grants, Estonia now aims at improving the quality of mental health services offered to children and youth.

DSC_3398 Art painting is offered as a therapy at the new Children’s mental health center in Tallinn. Children often find it easier to express emotions through art. Photo Credit: Maria Knoph Vigsnaes/FMO

“During the past years we arranged more than hundred workshops training medical staff in different therapeutic methods. We also improved cooperation between preschools, schools, and social welfare specialists to ensure everyone is on the same page. In addition, we gained a new center with three departments focused on mental illnesses,” says project assistant Kristiina Kongo.  

“I wanted to die”

Vlad is happy to have the possibility to choose music as therapy. He thinks it’s easier to talk to the therapist about his dark thoughts when music is in focus.

DSC_3421 Vlad wants to stay anonymous; when we meet him, he is holding a pillow tight to his chest. Photo Credit: Maria Knoph Vigsnaes/FMO.

“Music is like food, - it gives me energy. I had a long depression, I got panic attacks and thought of committing suicide– my friend told me to get help”, says Vlad.

He is happy about the therapeutic advice he has received at the mental health center. 

“My psychologist said: `You don’t have to listen to everything people say about you Vlad! Just listen to what you want, don’t listen to negative people´, it may seem simple, but that advice really helped me,” says Vlad.

In 2014, the suicide rate in Estonia was 14.83 per 100 000, while the average in the European Union was 9.96.  In 2015, there were 12 suicide cases in the 0–19 age group.

The children’s hospital in Tallinn used to lack psychiatric resources, however after the project they have the largest children’s mental health center in Estonia with 80 staff members.

DSC_3443 The center offers different kinds of psychological treatment and services for children and youth. Sometimes children need to stay at the center for a short period to feel better. Photo Credit: Maria Knoph Vigsnaes/FMO

“The center consists of specialised departments that offer different therapy methods and diagnostic services - we are finally able to compare ourselves with other countries,” says Kristiina.

The children often struggle with eating disorders, addiction, or behavioral problems.

“A child with behavioral problems is not a bad child; it could be caused by a traumatic childhood or an ADHD-diagnosis,” Kristiina says.  

As parents, there is no topic more important than the health of children.” Read about the Estonian Prime Minister Taavi Roivas message during the opening ceremony of the new Tallinn Children’s Mental Health Centre.

“Life can be shitty sometimes”

There is a friendly environment at the Children’s mental health center in Tallinn. The art room is filled with paintings, colors, and pencils. On the walls, there are colorful traces of a creative therapy session. This is where Kathriin (14) likes to stay.

DSC_3439 Kathriin (14) is fond of art therapy. She thinks the psychologist needs to be strict and realistic to understand her. Photo Credit: Maria Knoph Vigsnaes/FMO

I have been here for almost one week - this is my second time around. I think it’s a nice place to be when you are exhausted by your own problems. The therapy is great. I have music and art therapy,” says Kathriin.

Her psychologist is strict when she needs to be, but according to Kathriin she believes in her.

“She is not like `everything is going to be okay, ´ - she is honest, like; `yes, life can be shitty sometimes´.”

DSC_3387 Kathriin wants to stay anonymous. She loves to read books, a passion many of her co-patients are sharing. Photo Credit: Maria Knoph Vigsnaes/FMO

Right now, 14 885 people have benefited from improved health services in Estonia. Read about the key results here.

Every day, Kathriin and the other children follow a tight schedule - when to wake up, have breakfast, study, have therapy, and bedtime.  Kathriin sees the routines as necessary to make improvements; however, there was a particular advice that helped her avoid panic attacks.

DSC_3384 This is the children’s everyday schedule at the mental center. Good routines are essential to gain a stable mental health. Photo Credit: Maria Knoph Vigsnaes/FMO.

“The best advice I got from my therapist was to chew gum to keep my brain distracted from anxiety, it really helps me. Now I am never leaving my house without gum,” says Kathriin.

The project 'Establishing children’s mental health center' is a part of the ‘Public Health Initiatives’ programme with the aim of improving mental health services.

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