New Delhi: The doctors and hospitals are reporting a rise in mental health issues like anxiety, stress, behavioural issues like mood swings, and hyperactivity, among children due to the pandemic. Children they say are isolated at home and are craving for normalcy. Dr Fazal Nabi, Director of Pediatrics, Jaslok Hospital informed that earlier they used to barely get one to two cases of children with mental issues in three months. However, now, around two children are coming to the OPD every week. Adding to this, Dr Anupam Borade, Psychiatrist said that more children are showing signs of depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Due to the pandemic and the lockdown, there is a lack of physical activity, physical meeting of friends, and social cohesion which according to the experts has affected children’s physical and mental well-being.
Kids from different age groups are coming with different health issues. Very young kids have not stepped outside. Some kids are facing stranger anxiety that is they are getting anxious on seeing strangers. Children are unable to meet anyone other than their parents. Older kids who used to go to schools are adapting to indoor lifestyle but lack of physical activity is causing constipation and obesity. Other older kids are worried about their career, said Dr Samir Sheikh, Consultant Neonatology, Wockhardt Hospital.
Elaborating more on the same, Dr P.S. Narang, Associate Director, Department of Pediatrics, Max Healthcare, said,
Health is the well-being of physical, mental and social. If we talk about physical health, children are lacking exercise. When it comes to social, children are not going out. The third thing is mental health; parents get up in the morning and ask their child to study, exercise, this or that. Kids are hearing this all the time. We have to channelise their energy in a proper manner and listen to what they feel from inside. Parents need to identify the mood swings of their children and keep them engaged with not only studies, but other activities need to be addressed simultaneously.
Manisha Massey, counselling psychologist and mental health expert also stressed on the role of parents in helping their children deal with pandemic-induced mental health crises. She believes, children end up replicating the language that they hear at home. The more fear that they observe in the families, it reflects more in their behaviour. She added,
Fear is normal. We also need to normalise the fact that what’s happening all around us is causing fear. What do we do about that? How do we manage that? So, parents need to have an open conversation with their children about reassuring them that first of all, their feelings are valid. How do we deal with these feelings is something that we are going to look into. How do we regulate these emotions? So, with younger children and older children, various stakeholders, who are at this moment in their lives – which includes their teachers, educators as well as their parents and elders – need to come together and have this similar language of acceptance and reassurance that this is exactly what’s going on. This is how we deal with it and your feelings are valid.
Talking about addressing career concerns of older children, Ms Massey recommended teachers come together and talk to children about it. She also suggested having mental health experts at a school level to deal with children and creating safe spaces for the children.
The COVID-19, especially the second wave of the pandemic, resulted in a lot of deaths. Many kids have seen death in the family. Explaining how parents can help children process grief, Dr Narang said,
A lot of children actually don’t speak. They just go quiet. Especially younger children are very much attached to their grandparents and losing any grandparent or parent is causing huge anxiety in them. So much so that if anybody in the family falls ill, they just presume that he/she is going to die. To help children navigate through this, talk to them and explain the age factor and other things. Obviously, they need to know why he/she has died, so never try to say they have gone somewhere and will come back. Sometimes you tell very young children that their loved one has gone to the god and become a star and now you can talk to them through whatever you are doing.
Sharing an example, Dr Narang said that if a child has lost his/her grandmother, tell the kid that your grandmother was very nice. She used to like you when you used to dress up well, study properly so if you will study well, remain a good boy/girl, your grandmother will be happy. They can still see and feel you, said Dr Naranag and added, “Time is the best healer”.
What happens when everything indeed starts to become normal? Will there be a concern of children not being able to mix up with others? Answering the same, Ms Massey said,
If this is something we are pre-empting, we need to find measures in order for them to be brought back into whatever the normal will look like after the dust settles. So, again, stakeholders need to talk to them. Right now, while the children are still grieving, this is a very important process for them to be able to understand how the grieving process works; process it well, heal and then be able to come back into society whatever that is going to look like. Know that it’s going to be difficult for them. It’s going to be anxiety-inducing, but they have a support system that they can fall back on.
While signing off, Dr Narang suggested parents address a child’s anxiety and never say that it’s going to be normal on its own. A lot of parents ask, ‘what anxiety do children have?’ They are not earning members. For a child, as small, if you take his sweet from him, even that’s an anxiety for him, said Dr Narang and added,
Talk to your children in a very cohesive manner so much so that they should never hide their fear or anxiety. Children are like normal human beings; they are the best psychologist, you give them the hug, love, talk to them, they actually will listen to you more carefully and patiently.
NDTV – Dettol Banega Swasth India campaign is an extension of the five-year-old Banega Swachh India initiative helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. It aims to spread awareness about critical health issues facing the country. In wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign highlights the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children to prevent maternal and child mortality, fight malnutrition, stunting, wasting, anaemia and disease prevention through vaccines. Importance of programmes like Public Distribution System (PDS), Mid-day Meal Scheme, POSHAN Abhiyan and the role of Aganwadis and ASHA workers are also covered. Only a Swachh or clean India where toilets are used and open defecation free (ODF) status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and become a Swasth or healthy India. The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollution, waste management, plastic ban, manual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene.
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