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Pandemic and Mental Health Issues in Children and Adolescents

All of us, children included, are trying to make sense of the overwhelming uncertainty in front of us due to the global pandemic caused by the Coronavirus (COVID-19). Children and adolescents have already been at home – with schools being shut early. Their regular schedules have been disrupted, with no clear idea of when they will be restored. Children are confined to the home and in some situations may be separated from the parent (s) because they are quarantined, or their parent (s) are quarantined. Children may experience a range of psychological issues such as anxiety, fear, worry, depression, difficulty sleeping, and loss of appetite. Quarantine and isolation may also lead to acute stress disorder, PTSD and grief in many children. Children with various physical and mental disabilities – and especially mental health disorders – are more vulnerable during this trying time. The kind of therapeutic inputs that children with various disabilities may have been receiving may not be readily available now – various therapies, special schooling, psychotropic medication, etc. Social isolation may worsen the living situation of children in abusive environments as well as children with special needs. Economic hardships and the potential worsening of parental physical or psychological illnesses, including substance use disorders, may take a toll on all children. Children may even go through loss and grief at this time

How can we help children cope in this difficult situation?

Children are constantly exposed to information related to the pandemic in newspapers, TV news channels and social media. They may understandably have realistic and some exaggerated fears. They must be provided unambiguous and clear information regarding the pandemic in an age appropriate language. The aim is to reassure them and reduce exaggerated threat perception. Children who wish to have access to information may be encouraged to look at reliable websites such as the World Health Organisation (WHO), Center for Disease Control (CDC) or the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW), Government of India.

Parents have to be aware of the normative developmental changes that occur during adolescence. Adolescents will have a better understanding of the COVID-19 related issues compared to children. Parents should engage in an open, non-judgemental communication with their adolescents rather than having assumptions like “you don’t know anything”, “you will have to learn everything from parents” etc. Coping and problem-solving skills of adolescents are better developed compared to children.

COVID-19 is too big a problem for a health professional or a parent to solve on their own. Since children and adolescents are at home with their parents, the following points are for parents. This advice can be dispensed to parents by health care professionals. For parents who are struggling with their daily needs, expecting them to structure their child’s schedule may be impractical. Social distancing itself may be difficult given people’s living situations. Parents’ anxieties may have to be addressed. This is a difficult time for all with no easy answers but some of these simple strategies may help.

 

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