Srinagar: Parents of 16-year-old Fatima (name changed) from a remote village in Anantnag got unsettled when they noticed their daughter getting seizures.
“Coming from poor family background, she did not have access to a smartphone or any gadget and skipped her classes. Her psychological state was affected to such an extent that she was diagnosed with anxiety disorder,” Amir Bashir, a mental health counsellor at Child Guidance and Wellness Centre at IMHANS said.
Initially, she had complained of headaches and palpitations. But the family dismissed it as something which will go on its own. “However, they grew worried when she got non-epileptic pseudoseizures and rushed her to the hospital,” he said.
Similarly, 12-year-old Saira (name-changed) from Pulwama began to seclude herself quite often and cry frequently.
“She was also from lower economic status. Her father was a labourer and could not afford a smartphone for online classes. Moreover, the isolation during the pandemic had exacerbated her existing emotional health issues. Consequently, she was diagnosed with anxiety disorder,” Bashir said.
The second Covid wave further led to children across age groups falling prey to psychological issues due to increased screen time, no social interaction and parents not having time for them despite working from home. However, the challenge is even greater for those children who lack access to smartphones skipping classes.
To address the mental health needs of those children, Child Guidance and Wellbeing Centre, CGWC, IMHANS in collaboration with Directorate of School Education DESK, Kashmir has initiated the community outreach programmes in the various government schools of the valley.
“People have suffered economically, educationally as well as psychologically in a pandemic over the last one year. There have been psychological trauma, especially among children. Therefore, such community outreach programmes need to be conducted by the government. This will help tide over the complications that might erupt in the thinking process of the children. Such sessions of counselling are of utmost importance,” Chief Educational Officer, Srinagar Manzoor Ahmad said.
Mohammad Shaheen, Pediatric Occupational Therapist at CGWC said during the COVID-19, children have experienced major disruptions as a result of public health safety measures, including school closures, social isolation, financial hardships, and gaps in health care access.
“Some children have also exhibited increased irritability, clinginess, and fear, and have had issues with sleeping and poor appetite. As mental health issues become more pronounced among children, access to care issues may also be increasing. These access issues may exacerbate existing mental health issues among children,” he said.
Adil Fayaz, Coordinator at CGWC noted children who are neither young nor in their teens are facing learning disabilities, throwing temper tantrums, showing aggressive behaviour and are wary of socialising. “Some of them have developed a social phobia and stranger anxiety. Therefore, conducting the mental health programmes is the need of the hour,” Fayaz said.
Syed Mujtaba, Training Coordinator at CGWC said the programme will be held in Srinagar, Ganderbal, Budgam, Anantnag, Kupwara, Baramula, Bandipora, Kupwara.
“We have started the first offline mental health counselling session at government middle school, Nandpora area of Srinagar district. These programmes are important because they encourage children to communicate their views and perspectives on various issues related to them. For children to be able to express themselves clearly, they must be provided with an enabling environment. If they are unable to talk, they can be encouraged to express themselves through drawing, paintings and other mediums,” Mujtaba said.