Closure of schools: Psychiatrists warn of long-term impact; emphasize on enhanced parent-children communication
SRINAGAR: As educational institutions across Jammu and Kashmir stand closed due to Covid-19 pandemic and children spending most of their time inside homes, several prominent psychiatrists have emphasized on the importance of parent-child communication to tackle the emotional and mental health issues surfacing among the young ones.
Like India, most of the countries battling the novel coronavirus pandemic went under the lockdown period to tackle the deadly virus. During the successive lockdowns, people in general faced a lot of problems as this phenomenon was new for most parts of the country but for the people of J&K, it was no different as they had witnessed curbs on movement and communication for a long time after the abrogation of Articles 370 and 35A.
Emotional and mental health issues peaked among the people across J&K and a similar situation was reported across the globe.
More than the adults, the psychological well-being of children has been badly affected.
Professor in Department of Psychiatry, Government Medical College, Srinagar, Dr Yasir Rather said the closure of educational institutions and restricting play activities of children has led to boredom, mental fatigue, lethargy while promoting the unhealthy habit of gluing to gadgets and limited social interactions.
“Only about 50-60 per cent of parents have an idea about the problems being faced by the young ones during Covid-19 pandemic. When a child stays home for so long, there is exposure to negative comments, hostility, emotional and physical abuse as well. Besides being detached from friends makes children more vulnerable to mental health issues,” he said.
He said that such awareness has been brought about with the help of webinars, regular write ups in local dailies and radio shows regarding the mental health of children.
Asked whether these adverse consequences of lockdown will be long or short term in nature, Dr Rather said: “Lockdown has a detrimental impact on emotional and social development. Children may show signs of fear, anxiety, emotional distress and post trauma stress symptoms. They may express clingier behaviour, anger outbursts as well as show lethargic behaviour.”
“Post lockdown, children will be more prone to psychological problems,” he added.
Dr Rather said ‘psychological well-being’ of children was a very subjective term.
“Well-being depends on both the individual and the environment. Family, schools and peers are significant factors for successful development. It indicates complete well-being and optimal development of a child in the emotional, behavioural, social and cognitive domains,” he said.
“Good mental health allows children to think clearly, develop socially and learn new skills. Additionally, good friends and encouraging words from adults are all important for helping children develop self-confidence, high self-esteem and healthy emotional development,” he added.
Regarding the psychological support for children, Dr. Yasir Rather stressed over an absolute need for mass awareness programs.
“We need to address psychological issues and create awareness for the same, create safe space for children, parents need to be more open and not be judgmental about their maladaptive behaviour,” he said.
He further emphasized, “We as a society need to understand that our children are vulnerable to mental health issues. It will take some time for them to get back to routine again-move towards the way they were. But they need support, warmth and understanding from us.”
The top psychiatrist advised parents and guardians to be more open and listen to the children. Provide them personal space and spend quality time with them.
“Set up a routine with them which you will also follow. Talk to them during meals as well as share your experiences with them,” he said.
Moreover, about the absence of structural settings of schools, which has resulted in boredom, lack of innovative ideas among children as well as made them dependent on their parents, Dr Rather said: “Definitely lethargy has crept in but we also have some other alternatives available—we have many online opportunities where children can learn.”
“Parents need to take a proactive role and engage them in different activities which will help them to achieve the same holistic development and not just online academic classes,” he added.
Dr Yasir Rather said that there is a lot of pressure on parents as well due to the current scenario in Jammu and Kashmir.
Dr Junaid-ul-Islam, Senior Clinical Fellow in Psychiatry with NHS West Midlands, United Kingdom, thinks that awareness about mental health problems has always been lagging due to different socio-cultural reasons and lack of mental health education in Jammu and Kashmir.
“Mass awareness and education is the first step towards solving the soaring mental health problems in general and particularly that of children,” he said.
Dr Islam said while lockdowns were crucial in containing the spread of virus, it had a significant impact on children’s mental health.
“The new normal has been an alien world to our growing children and I would say it has affected them negatively,” he said, adding that this period of time will be rated as a psychological trauma in the lives of children.
Talking about the adverse impact of consistent lockdowns over the mental health of children, Dr Islam said, “hopefully the effects would be short term but we cannot deny the long-term effects.”
“Every person reacts and behaves differently to different situations. But I think, if we as parents support the children through this, things can be resolved with time. That’s why parent awareness and education is important so that they are able to identify the needs of their children in terms of mental health and seek professional help if required,” he emphasized.
Dr Junaid-ul-Islam said that the most important things is to know, what could be a problem and then identifying it, before finding its solution.
“With the help of mass media and mental health services, the Government can educate the people about mental health issues and their way out,” he said, adding that for Parents/guardians, the most important thing is to communicate with their children and find out if they are facing any problems. “Specifically, if someone notices any behavioural changes in their child,” he further added.
He also advised parents to make a time table for their children and include academics as well as other activities in it. “And remember today’s children are very curious and critical about things. So, parents should always talk about the ongoing things to get the viewpoint of their children.”
Apart from citing involvement of children in outdoor sports and other activities as very important, Dr Junaid-ul-Islam said, “for the government, I think, it is high time to re-open the educational institutions especially schools for young children as they are losing their precious time which won’t ever come back.”
Moreover, talking about the psychological wellbeing, Dr Junaid-ul-Islam said, “Mental well-being for children is as important as in adults. And also it is as important as physical well-being.”
“For children to function well, it is very necessary for them to be mentally healthy. Being mentally healthy doesn’t only mean mere absence of any major mental health disorder. It also means how a person is functioning psychologically as well as socially,” he said, adding that children have emotional needs which need to be met appropriately.
“While they are learning in different spheres at school and home, they also need to learn and understand different emotions and the ways to respond appropriately, manage and regulate these emotions.”
Dr Junaid-ul-Islam said, “A Kashmiri child like any other child has lots of questions and queries while growing up, regarding which I think that due to a communication gap, they are not able to discuss with their parents or guardians owing to our cultural and social dynamics.”
“Things are changing here, in fact in our place (UK), parents are more active in terms of raising their children and taking care of their needs but I think mental health as a need is still not identified as it should be,” he said.
Dr Junaid Nabi, Assistant Professor, Department of Psychiatry, GMC Srinagar, said that there is still denial among people of Jammu and Kashmir about the existence of mental health among children.
“Parents/guardians to quite some extent are not able to understand that there is stress among children due to lockdowns, closure of schools as well as separation from their friends for over a long period of time now,” he said.
“All those activities, which the young were used to during the normal circumstances, have not been available for years now,” he said and added, “that’s why parents have been complaining about their wards getting angry over small things and irritated easily.”
Dr Nabi said that lockdown has definitely taken a hit on the mental health of the children and there is a rise in aggression as well as their personality is getting changed.
“Children used to spend most of the time of the day at schools, interacting with their friends and teachers but now they are confined to a particular place along with their gadgets, which would most probably result in several issues in future,” he said.
Talking about the psychological support to the children, Dr Nabi said that since home is the first school for a child, parents should spend a lot of time with their wards, indulge in conversations, know about their hobbies, likes and dislikes, read them books, etc.
“Give importance to the views of your children, make them share things with you and don’t ever neglect them,” he said.
About anxiety and depression among children, Dr Nabi said that it is typically different then in adults and usually, whenever parents/guardians notice irritability, anger, arrogance and similar behavioural issues in children, they should immediately consult a specialist.
“Leave aside the stigma related to it, as we know in our society, parents would usually stay away from consulting a psychiatrist but the most important thing is and should be the health of a child, so just visit a specialist,” he emphasized.
Social media and children
Even though Internet/social media has been the ultimate tool for passing time as well as an important medium for children to stay connected with educational institutions by attending virtual classes; the adverse effects of it had long been raised by the experts of the field around the globe.
About the impact of excessive use of internet/social media over the mental health of children, Professor Dr Yasir Rather said that social media may promote negative experiences in children.
“A child may start feeling inadequate about their life or appearance. They will develop fear of missing out on something,” he said and added, “social media handles may exacerbate feelings that others are having more fun or living better lives than you are. This will impact self esteem, trigger anxiety and fuel even greater social media use.”
Professor Rather believes that a compulsive pattern of checking phones for updates among children will develop. “It will make children isolate more, which can lead to depressive and anxiety features. They are also more exposed to online bullying.”
Sharing his take on the use internet/social media platforms by children, Dr Junaid-ul-Islam said that it comes with countless positives however it’s important to use it responsibly.
To make it simple, Dr Islam pointed out Two important things everyone needs to keep in mind.
“We know Time is the most important thing. I think people are spending more time than required on social media or which is unproductive. And secondly, we have started Two parallel worlds. One is a real word and the other is the virtual one,” he said, adding, “When the two contradict, which happens most of the time, it creates an emotional imbalance particularly in children.” (KNB)