The Tampere City Region has gained international renown around the subject of infant mental health. First-rate research in infant psychiatry is conducted in the region, and the head office of a worldwide organisation for the field is located in Tampere.
The World Association for Infant Mental Health (WAIMH) is a global organisation for infant mental health and a network of research, education and clinical work in the field. The organisation has both individual members and almost 60 member organisations, which means that it can reach at least 15,000 people working with infants and families with children throughout the world.
“Our individual members include some 1,000 specialists in infant mental health from about 40 countries, many of whom are engaged in top research in the field. The member organisations employ a vast pool of doctors, psychologists, nurses, midwives, social workers and therapists, for example,” says Pälvi Kaukonen, Executive Director at WAIMH.
The organisation needs to reach as many professionals as possible. Its aim is to promote infant mental health and well-being on a global scale through research, education and international cooperation. The organisation wants to make tangible changes in the day-to-day lives of families with small children.
“The desire to improve the state of things is definitely one of the key reasons for us to do this work and spend so much of our time on it. The human race cannot afford to traumatise children at the current rate,” says Kaija Puura, Associate Executive Director at WAIMH.
When an e-mail is sent to the WAIMH head office, the person who most likely receives and responds to the message is Development Coordinator Minna Sorsa. Dozens of people contact the organisation each day with questions regarding its operations, events and cooperation possibilities, for example. Every single message gets a response.
“Friendly interaction is a defining feature of our organisation in other areas as well. Since it is regarded as an important principle in infant psychiatry, we naturally want implement it in practice through our operations,” Sorsa explains.
WAIMH was established in 1980, and its head office was moved from the United States to Finland in 2008. Finland is known around the world as a neutral country with an infant-friendly climate in terms of social and health care services and research – for instance, the Finnish maternity package makes headlines on a regular basis. Tampere was selected as the new home of the head office due to the fact the development of infant psychology has been particularly active in the area.
“Naturally, individuals have been very important in the process. University of Tampere professor Tuula Tamminen has worked for WAIMH for a long time. Among other tasks, she served as the President of the organisation from 2004 to 2008. Under her leadership, a highly successful WAIMH world congress was held in Tampere in 1996,” Kaukonen says.
Child psychiatry has a long tradition in the city region. The child psychiatric ward established at Pitkäniemi Hospital in 1927 is one of the oldest in Europe. Today, the top research conducted in the Tampere Region is supported by many favourable factors, such as a comprehensive child health clinic system, active child psychiatric operations at the university and the university hospital, Tampere University’s interdisciplinary Center for Child Health Research, and the health care expertise of the region as a whole.
For this very reason, when a chapter on infant psychiatry was needed for one of the world’s most popular textbooks on child and adolescent psychiatry, experts from Tampere were requested to take up the task. The article for the book Rutter’s Child and Adolescent Psychiatry was penned by Tuula Tamminen and Kaija Puura. The book is widely used by doctors specialising in child psychiatry, which means that it has contributed to a massive step forward in the promotion of infant mental health.
“Researchers produce information that societies need to develop themselves. In addition to this, the fact that the world organisation’s head office is located in Finland benefits the entire area: the research cooperation helps to create networks and education increases expertise,” Sorsa says.
Research has produced a staggering amount of new information on the mental health of infants. Psychological disorders can be detected in infancy, and disorders afflicting 2–3-year-olds can be diagnosed. Early treatment is both effective and important, in addition to being a profitable investment for society.
“Infancy is a phase that should be particularly well protected. If help is needed, it should be provided right away, not when the problems escalate and become more pronounced,” Puura says.
“The younger the child, the more important the interaction between the child and the parent. By studying and supporting it we can provide mental care even for young children,” Kaukonen says.
In order for treatment to be provided, the problems must first be identified. The intention is to use results gathered by child psychiatry researchers in Tampere to develop new methods for this purpose, including a simple five-question screening tool. It will guide the care providers in observing whether or not there is eye contact between the baby and the parent.
The latest target of research is shared pleasure. This is to say that researchers are observing whether or not shared pleasure is evident in the interaction between the child and the parent. Shared pleasure may be a factor that protects the child’s mental health and provides an indication of sufficiently good early interaction. This finding and its possible significance must still be verified with materials gathered from various countries, but it is possible that it will develop into the latest innovation of infant psychiatry in Tampere.
“It would seem that the absence of shared pleasure is a visible indication of problems in early interaction. If it can be used to identify depression among parents, for example, it will provide a useful screening method for problems in early childhood interaction throughout the world. The research is still ongoing,” Puura says.
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