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With the reopening of schools, AMRI Hospitals shares ways to combat mental health issues in children

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It is nearly impossible to gauge the impact of COVID-19 on the mental health of children, especially the ones who have borne the harshest brunt of it. With a countrywide lockdown for months, attending virtual classes wasn’t the only far-reaching transition children faced during this ongoing pandemic. Witnessing the illness of loved ones, and in some cases, even deaths, themselves falling ill, financial distress at home, domestic violence, inadequate educational facilities, scarce healthcare amenities, or poor nutrition has led to previously unknown and new anxiety levels among children. AMRI Hospitals are open for them.

After the traumatic second wave when the psychological well-being of children was severely affected, the reopening of schools and educational institutes has given rise to serious concerns among teachers and the authorities. Here we have discussed the challenges shared by mental health specialists of AMRI Hospitals.

1.      ‘Back-to-School’ Anxiety

Any change can cause anxiety, especially in children who are introvertish and find it discomforting to head back to the classroom for in-person learning. It’s normal to have first-day jitters, although this time the situation is dramatically different. Children may face confusing emotions of sitting in the classroom wearing masks and maintaining social distancing with friends and classmates, even as many of them might have emerged from personal and financial losses. Children with a history of school anxiety before the pandemic may be most vulnerable and can act problematic with visible signs of distress and a tendency to avoid going to school.

2.         Fear of Uncertainty

As the dramatic turn of events during the pandemic led things to go in a totally different direction for all of us, experts believe that finding adults struggling to manage in midst of the crisis is bound to diminish a child’s sense of confidence. Watching the entire country’s healthcare infrastructure at stake was enough to make children, especially teenagers, uncertain about the ability of their schools and the community to keep them safe. The aftermath of the outbreak has been traumatic for some children, as they witnessed an impact on their parents’ income, inability to access online classes, and much more. Now, schools are no longer a place for fun, learning, and security for kids as they used to be.

 

3.         Behavioural and emotional changes

Learning about the harsh realities of life at an early age made children victims of emotional and psychological disorders. Irritability, avoiding school, poor concentration, delinquent behavior, hyperactivity or fidgeting, intolerance, low motivation, and eating disorders are going to be major concerns that teachers will have to deal with among their students. Even today, both students and their parents are unable to realize such problems and credit their bad mood to simply “feeling low”, explains a senior counseling psychologist of AMRI Hospitals.

4.      Feeling of Distrust

Social isolation and not being able to physically meet with peers and friends for so long have negatively affected the mental health of children. Friendships and family support are strong stabilizing forces for children, and it has been disrupted badly due to the pandemic. Now, most children, especially those between 5-10 years of age, are likely to develop a lack in building a vital bond of trust, sharing, caring, and support among peers, after having spent the better part of two years at home, isolated form the rest of the world.

5.      Sudden Burden of Academic Stress

The already existing learning deficit during the online class system is going to hinder usual methods of conducting studies and examinations. The fact that many children suffered from limited access to educational facilities during the pandemic deepened the learning gap. They also missed going to school and following formal instructions for nearly two years. An urgency to prepare for exams, especially after repeated postponements and sitting for tests online can also have a deep impact on children’s mind.

Mental Health of Children Needs Special Attention

In India, around 1.19 lakh children lost their primary caregiver (parent or custodial grandparent), with an estimated around 25,000 lost their mother, and more than 90,000 lost their father, as the pandemic wreaked havoc across the country. It would be the most difficult phase for children who lost parents to be a part of emerging normalcy. In such cases, educators should be aware of varying levels of coping skills for every individual since each child has absorbed different experiences from the pandemic. While it is impractical to suggest that teachers are replaced by trained mental health professionals, educators, school authorities, and the Government need to find newer ways to acknowledge the challenge. Some of these ways can be:

  1. Recognizing the basic classroom requirements is the first step! Suggesting to shed a light on ‘Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs’, a AMRI Hospitals clinical psychologist explains that food, security, safety, health, sense of belonging, and self-esteem are important for every child to cope and beat insufficiency of emotional, social, and learning needs.
  2. More attention needs to be given to the mental health needs of children. Striking a balance between academic sessions and vocational/creative ones allows children to be open and to express their thoughts and concerns in less pressurized circumstances.
  3. A proactive comprehensive approach to replicate the ‘Return to Learn’ model (used for head trauma patients) can assist educators in designing a curriculum with collaborative strategies to help students to take on a ‘Back to School’ routine at a good pace.
  4. Authorities need to ensure that all staff members (teachers, counselors, and assistants) are equipped with interventional techniques to build a safe and supportive environment for children. It is vital to have a systematic transition plan, followed by practical tools and strategies to rebuild relationships with students returning to school.
  5. There needs to be an understanding that every child has his/her own pace, and that a ‘one size fits all approach will not work in case of coping skills, s children re-adjust to school life, both mentally and physically. Teachers in classrooms need to be more positive and encouraging to boost confidence and motivation among students.

Throughout the pandemic, children may have dealt with more stress and worries than usual. Expecting them to understand and tackle their own mental health issues while socializing after prolonged isolation could make them more susceptible to anxiety and other disorders.

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