AGENDA OF THE MONTH
Coronavirus and Children’s Mental Health
by Enes OVALI
Passing by the abandoned and neglected schoolyards on their way to work could have people recall how crowded and noisy these schools were and ask themselves how children would spend their time at their home. The COVID-19 has brought social and economic upheaval to our lives and changed our normalcy over the last six months, but it may be overlooked how children’s and teenagers’ lives undergo an extensive and rapid change throughout this pandemic. The scale of the pandemic that we have not seen in this lifetime is so massive that 1.5 billion children around the globe are affected by school closure and the vast majority of them are placed and held in confinement. Consequently, there are lots of cases and there are lots of children and families in different conditions all around the world.
While some countries are removing some coronavirus restrictions and are starting to gradually re-open their schools, many children still cannot go to school. Some of them can leave their home but some of them in dangerous zones can’t. Some of them can meet their friends but some of them should be content with online meetings. Children at preschool age need much more attention and care but most of the kindergarten is closed. Most young and old children is seen as potential virus carriers, because of that they have been kept in isolation. They are also seen as an obstacle by their parents due to the reason that they struggle with the problem of finding a child caregiver. They cannot even give their children to their grandparents as they are at work. It should be added that many teenagers have been affected severely. There are no more sports, prom, or graduation. They also cannot meet with their friends or lovers. An academic from Save the Children, Prof. Ellen Townsend said that there was evidence that growing feelings of loneliness and social isolation as a result of school closures during the pandemic could be making that worse, especially among teenagers. Maybe with the digitalization of communication, they can help themselves to be in a better mood. But there are lots of teenagers who don't have the opportunity to connect to the internet or have devices to communicate and spend time with their friends online. Besides, it is unknown how long this will keep on, although the children are influenced negatively and constantly.
“People who are outside regularly have a lower activity in the part of the brain that focuses on repetitive negative emotions. This is one of the reasons children can slide into negative feelings or even depression during the circumstances they are living in now,” says Anne-Sophie Dybdal, another advisor from Save the Children. Being lack of an outdoor place to play games or meet with friends or animals is worse than it is thought for children. Of course, everybody may have gone through tough times during the isolation or under the restrictions, but children probably suffer most from being locked down. The surveys below can give a hint about the challenges the children face and how those can affect their social and emotional well-being.
Source: Save the Child
70 percent of participating children in Finland reported experiencing feelings of anxiety, over 55 percent said they were fatigued. Fear of being socially excluded and struggling with boredom could cause this.
In the UK, 20 percent of the interviewed children said they were worried about the future due to school closures, and almost 60 percent worried that a relative might fall sick. It can be assumed children can measure time differently than adults. In that case, which even adults cannot estimate how long the pandemic takes as the second waves of coronavirus predictions are being stated, they cannot predict when their lives go back to normal that they know. Because it is not easy to comprehend the virus and its effects on daily life. Therefore, they have been put in a precarious and vulnerable position by the major changes.
In Germany, one-third of children said they were worried they would not be able to finish their school year. The students who were studying for the university or high school entrance exam in Turkey have faced educational and motivational difficulties. Application processes for universities have been interrupted.
Another research showed that domestic violence has been rising during pandemic especially in developing and underdeveloped countries. The isolation, school closures, and parents losing their job are considered the main reasons for that rising of violence. Also, it can be added that reduced parental supervision during medical treatment for Covid-19 can leave children more vulnerable to violence but children and teenagers are significantly less likely to get coronavirus.
Additionally, children who are living in poverty are put at the highest risk by this pandemic. The risk of poor nutrition has been increasing. Good nutrition is essential for healthy physical and cognitive development of a child. If the precautions are not taken by the government or international organizations, parents' income loss due to crisis could hit the children hard. Thus, it can lead that the gap between advantaged and disadvantaged children can get wider.
There are also warnings and statements made by psychologists about children and their mental health and wellbeing. Global COVID-19 trends suggest that children are far less likely to be infected than adults, so these trends support and encourage the warnings and advice from advisors and psychologists from various institutions. They urged the government to reconsider their decision on measures and release children and young people from lockdown. An institution warned of the harmful long-term consequences of a lack of face-to-face contact among young people and their peers. Even though the digitalization and playing online games help children to socialize with their friends, the online platforms come with their disadvantages such as cyber-bullying, sexual exploitation, or abuse. And the importance of face-to-face communication cannot be underestimated. Since it is a much more natural way to convey feelings and thoughts for children through body language and facial expressions.
It is certainly important to notice that the world takes actions against infectious diseases better than a century ago thanks to science, scientific literacy, and independent media, despite the government’s fiascos around the globe. The world will learn lessons from its mistakes and in further crises work together and take proactive actions to minimize the harm to the mental wellbeing of the children. (1) (2) (3) (4)