Lithuanian youngsters still short of psychological help

  • 2001-09-20
  • Ausrine Bagdonaite
VILNIUS - Experts at an international conference, Children's Mental Health - Searching for Standards of Prevention and Care in Vilnius, called on Lithuania's leaders Sept. 14 to stop and think about young people in the country.

The conference, held in Vilnius University's main hall to commemorate the 10th year of the Lithuanian Child Development Center's work improving the mental health of young people, was organized by a number of local and international organizers, such as the Geneva Initiative on Psychiatry, the World Health Organization's European Regional Bureau and the Swedish government's East European Committee.

Lithuanian specialists and experts from Sweden, the Netherlands, Estonia and Latvia took part.

The major goals of the conference were to draw people's attention to problems concerning children and to make the highest Lithuanian authorities open their eyes and join the rest of the world in focusing on children's problems.

Speakers at the conference emphasized that Lithuania is lagging behind the Western world, where the quality and standard of living is closely linked to children's mental health. The world generally sees the start of all people's mental difficulties in the minor problems of family and society.

The recent tragic events in New York and Washington illustrate how vulnerable children are in the adult world. It is been reported that the number of terrified children calling Lithuanian children's telephone helplines has increased Linas Slusnys, director of the Lithuanian Child Development Center, told The Baltic Times. The children expressed their fears about war.

Slusnys said that there are no concrete national mental health strategies or statistics in Lithuania, which exist in most other countries in Europe.

The center's input into children's mental health is clearly visible. It has proven that sexual and psychological abuse exists against children in Lithuania and has succeeded in developing sexual abuse prevention.

Throughout the world, between 3 percent and 30 percent of men and 6 percent and 60 percent of women have suffered sexual abuse, but it is not known where Lithuania lies in this wide scale.

The Child Development Center is part of a large international project battling sexual abuse. The first national children's helpline was launched four years ago thanks to the center and the French Embassy in Vilnius.

At the conference, Slusnys emphasized the seriousness of the problem. State funding has been reduced since the center's foundation. But Slusnys argues that children should be given higher priority.

"We'd like the Lithuanian government to look through the Lithuanian state budget and increase the financing for assistance for children from 0.25 percent to 0.5 percent. But this is a utopian idea. A strategy without funding is better than no strategy at all," Slusnys said.

"The government fails to understand that even the least severe afflictions can begin from psychological problems, which sometimes result from family problems. Prescription drugs are financed well, but when it comes to social services, eyes are shut. Children's centers should have powerful lobbies, just like pharmaceutical multinationals," he concluded.