The first wave of COVID-19 came as a surprise to everyone, where the main concern was to understand what is this “new normal”. Each age group faced its share of challenges, however for many children it was tough handling online classes, with no outdoor games and also understanding what is a “pandemic” in the first wave. The second wave has been a different ball game altogether, from merely adapting to this pandemic to understanding illness and death, and seeing it up close. The virus has not just impacted the physical but also the mental health of children.
NCPCR reported that at least 3,621 children have orphaned due to COVID-19 and 26,000 lost one parent. The dire state our country has gone through subjected everyone to a situation that left people hopeless and helpless. Children who are dependent on adults for their basic needs and have been exposed to an overwhelming stimulus, having witnessed so much, their childhood ‘snatched away’ from them, has had a major impact on their psyche.
India has approximately 472 million children under the age of 18 years, and with the coming of the third wave, it is ever so important to shed light on the mental health of children and address the challenges being faced by them.
Indian youth have been often reported with high levels of psychological distress, are now experiencing a four-fold increase in anxiety and depressive symptoms. This is indicative of the profound impact of the pandemic on the mental well-being of children, making it ever so essential to acknowledge this.
Another crucial aspect associated with this pandemic has been the “lockdown”. It has had a detrimental effect on the mental health of many children across the country.
Earlier children would go to schools and parks which gave them the opportunity to socialize, however with these public places being unavailable, children especially are having a hard time. As adults, it is easier to make sense of the lockdown, but for children, it is becoming increasingly difficult to stay in, and it is seen that children respond by becoming stubborn and throwing tantrums. For adolescents, it is challenging to remain confined within the home during this stage, where they seek support from their peers and want to explore the world, as a result, it is seen that their mental health has taken a huge blow. They are especially experiencing high levels of emotional distress, which leads to an increase in substance misuse, suicidal thoughts and acting out behaviors. Likewise, the lockdown has also created chaos in the routine followed by children due to a lack of certainty of what to do next and limited activities.
Furthermore, this pandemic is difficult for children who have developmental disorders and require continuous support. A survey by WHO reported that due to the pandemic there is a decline in mental health services by 93 percent while the need is heightened.
It is important to address these issues as soon as the child begins to show signs of distress because if not tackled in a timely manner, they can lead to these children developing psychological disorders. Some behaviors to look out for are: withdrawal, acting out, low mood, lack of motivation, helplessness, being overinvolved in social media and avoiding interactions, breakdown of trust, or tantrums. This is an unprecedented situation and children especially require all the support to help them overcome these challenging times.
Here are some things which you can do to strengthen the mental health and well-being of children around you:
•Be present emotionally and mentally
•Carry out open and honest communication
•Provide honest information
•Offer personal space
•Create a routine
•Engage and interact
•Reaching out to a professional
The second wave of COVID-19 has shaken each individual to the core, and it has had jarring effects on mental health. These times are especially difficult for children who have just started their lives witnessing a pandemic. As adults, it is ever more important for us to step up to ensure that this negative effect can be minimized as much as possible and join hands together to provide all the support to contribute towards the well-being of children.
Arushi Malik is Counselling Psychologist at Kaleidoscope
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