It's been a year since students have been kept away from schools. Now an average school day starts with a lazy breakfast staring at their PCs, where students are trapped inside the screens, struggling to focus, unable to socialize or meet friends, share lunches, or play games on the school ground. They have been caged inside homes and half of the students have lost interest in studies and are finding excuses to miss the online classes. And media is filled with tragic stories of students taking their lives over small things- from being denied a pigeon, creating hazardous friendships online to running away from homes. Undoubtedly this Covid time has adversely affected the mental state of our children. What are the ways to rescue our children from falling prey to this? Ernakulam Medical Trust Hospital’s Chief Psychiatrist, Dr. Elsy Oommen talks about this.
Were the children really enjoying this period, having to skip school, and resort to online classes?
Though initially, they did enjoy this phase, after a while, they were getting bored and stressed with this. Studies show that at least 91% of the children were adversely affected during this period.
Did the parents' work-from-home format really isolate the children from them?
Though technically work-from-home is a format that will allow parents to be at home with their children, unfortunately, they would have truly little time to spend together. Before Covid, they only needed to spend working hours at the office and then come home but with this format, the timings will be flexible, making it difficult to differentiate between working hours and free time. They had more time to spend with children and family but now they are required to spend as much time as possible in front of the computer screen. Children are even denied the luxury to play games and have fun at home, as it might disturb their working parents. This is causing a lot of strain on both parents and children, with both finding it difficult to adjust to the new format. Children aren’t pleased with the constant parental interference and parents are tired of seeing their children at the house 24/7 and having to discipline them.
Has the lockdown and covid poorly affected the children’s mental health?
This has mostly affected children who are already having mental health issues or are susceptible to them. Having said that constantly keeping the children indoors and the online classes have had some side effects on their habits and behaviour. They are exhibiting traits like Anger, sadness, and stubbornness more frequently. And sibling fights are on the rise. Children who were used to channelising their energies in sports and other extracurricular activities are struggling to transmit their energies indoors. This is being conducted in the form of anger, sadness, and stubbornness. Besides, they are anxious about Covid and are having separation anxiety. Studies have shown that children who are being quarantined are going through a lot of mental stress. Parents are also adding to their fear and stress. Loneliness, lethargy, and anger are on the rise in such children. Some children might suffer from hyperactivity and communication deficiency. Children often reach a point where they are unable to control their behaviour.
Special children go through a lot of trauma during this time as the parents are clueless about taking care of them at home. Lockdown has deeply affected children with mental health issues. Without proper doctor supervision or hospital access, they often go into depression or have suicidal thoughts. Covid has been particularly difficult for children with OCD. They are constantly plagued by the thought of the disease, keeping their hands clean.
How can parents recognise such mental issues in their children during the Covid time?
Not just Covid time, Mental issues can affect children at any time. But it will be worse during such trying times. Two common symptoms are depression and anxiety. Personality defects can have far-reaching consequences. Depression can result in suicide and self-abuse. One should check for behavioral changes in their children. Studies reveal that most mental health issues will first resurface before 14 years of age. Sadness, inability to find happiness in anything and quick flare-ups are indications of depression in an individual.
Changes in eating habits, overreacting, unable to eat, changes in sleeping pattern, sleep deprivation, oversleeping, lethargy, eagerness to do dangerous stunts, tiredness, lack of concentration, being overly self-critical, talking and thinking about death, poor performance in school, getting sick all the time and stubbornness are other symptoms. Hyperactivity, anxiety, getting overtly attached to parents can also be counted as indications of depression.
How to tackle such mental health issues?
The first step obviously is to get the help of a psychiatrist. Parents should be able to instill confidence and courage in the children. If you realise that they need you by their side, take time off to spend time with them. Educate them about Covid-19. Divert them from any form of negative news. Make sure there is a strict timetable to monitor their health and studies. They should take time to eat healthily and incorporate exercise into their daily routine. Encourage healthy habits and keep a strict vigil on unhealthy habits. Internet usage has to be monitored and restricted. You should insist that they have daily phone conversations with their friends and cousins. Your domestic and personal issues shouldn’t be piled on them.
What are the ill effects of overuse of mobile phones?
One of the main issues with mobile phones when it comes to children is that they are quickly getting addicted to them. Studies have proved that mobile phone overuse can poorly affect their cognitive skills. This can cause a lack of interest in academics, turning anti-social and aggressive. It can also lead to personality disorder and learning disorder. Gadgets can induce anxiety in children.
Obesity and other body illness due to mental instability are the other issues. Playing sports physically on the ground and aggressively playing a video football game are two different things. The latter will have help in your mental or physical fitness. Sports is such an important part of your children’s life. It helps them in more ways than one and that includes, turning them into a social animal to imparting skills like patience, integrity, confidence, team spirit, and sportsman spirit. Physically, mentally, and emotionally sports help in building character. While internet games can only isolate you from the rest of the world. Children are not able to mingle or socialize with other children which in turn will affect their social skills. Children who spent more than 2 hrs with their gadgets are known to have anger issues.
How to dissuade children who have suicidal tendencies?
Parents who have children with such suicidal tendencies should continually monitor them. Parents should have more awareness about this. Those who need psychiatric help for their children should consult with them regarding keeping home safe for them as well as make an appointment with them whenever the child needs it. Children should feel secure under the knowledge that they have a lot of friends and family to fall back on. This will help a lot in curbing their suicidal tendencies. Society and parents should always show their support to such children.
Make sure such children are given coping and support training. A conducive atmosphere should be created at home for such children. Most importantly teach them the value of life. Maybe think of ways to inculcate self-confidence in them. Equip them to make the right decisions in life. Teach them the importance of self-control as well as help them to confidently communicate with others. Parents can get the help of an expert during such cases. Children are always scared of facing failures. That perhaps should be an important learning for them- how to face failures with your chin up? And parents can actually think of some fun activities to integrate all these teachings in their children.