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Children’s mental health at peril amid pandemic

03 May 2021 21:25:24 | Update: 03 May 2021 22:54:32
Children’s mental health at peril amid pandemic

Ismail Jobiullah

The world is undergoing one of the most challenging times in its history due to a destructive form of a pathogen called SARS-CoV-2 all over the world. The fatal virus, commonly known as the novel coronavirus, was first diagnosed in the Wuhan province of China in December 2019 and has almost paralysed the world.

The world is in a situation people have not experienced before. Everything has come to a standstill because of the Covid-19 pandemic. The global economy has experienced the greatest meltdown ever.  Alongside the economy, almost everything has been severely affected by the novel coronavirus.

The same impacts have been witnessed in Bangladesh since the detection of the first case here on March 8, 2020.

However, the most overlooked effect during the ongoing pandemic is the mental health of people, especially children. According to health experts, these frightening times surely have tremendous effects on the mental health of people all over the world.

The worst sufferers of this are children. The year 2020 was a nightmare year for them. An eerie atmosphere existed all around as the whole world was confined behind closed doors. It created a sense of panic in people’s minds. Children’s mental upbringing was severely disrupted during this period and the situation is still not in favour.

It has been a year since children were deprived of many opportunities that were previously available. Therefore, it might not be unusual for them to desire those once available privileges and openings as such deprivation has resulted in an abrupt halt in all their normal activities.

This is harshly true for the children in our society as well. Not only the kids but also the elders could never assume that this type of situation could arise.

A study published in Psychiatric Times on October 8, 2020, conducted in Italy and Spain among 1,143 participants between the ages of 3 to 18, revealed several behavioural changes during home confinement amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

According to the study, the most frequently observed changes were difficulty concentrating (76.6 per cent), boredom (52 per cent), irritability (39 per cent), restlessness (38.8 per cent), nervousness (38 per cent), loneliness (31.3 per cent), uneasiness (30.4 per cent), and worries (30.1 per cent).

Around 75 per cent of parents also reported feeling stressed about the quarantine situation, the study found. Increased reports of emotional and behavioural symptoms in children were linked to parental stress.

According to sociologists, children’s socialisation process has many catalysts, which contribute to their mental growth. Family is considered the most important tool here. Other catalysts, including friends, playmates, educational and religious institutions, are also vital contributors in shaping and maintaining a healthy mental state.

Sadly, our children are, to a great extent, deprived of these valuable tools due to the deadly paw of Covid-19. Children are increasingly losing their usual cheerful and curious character during the global pandemic. Confined environment and the gloomy air of grief of the outside world are gradually putting their mental health under serious threat.

Educational institutions in Bangladesh were declared closed on March 17 last year and have remained so to this day. Children are deprived of being with their friends this whole time, which must have hit their tender mind intensely.

Humans are naturally keen to share their activities and experiences with their near and dear ones. Children are no different in this case. Rather, they possess an emphasised version of these characteristics. The confined environment of their homes makes them feel suffocated.

Psychologists opine that this could seriously hamper their mental health, bearing the possibilities of being troubled with various psychological problems.

Not only these, but multifarious anxieties also terrorise children’s minds when they have less chance to communicate with their peers. Sometimes elders are seen to discuss the formidable global effects of coronavirus in the presence of children. These types of continuous input create panic among them. They feel extremely scared of the outside world, which starts to embed in their mind.

Such fear may result in severe psychiatric problems.  Studies reveal that fearful children face difficulties with problem-solving; they feel frightened to share their views with others. Children living in urban areas seem to struggle more.

Another cause of anxiety for parents is that due to the closure of schools, the children have to participate in online classes arranged by their respective institutions. It may sound strange, but this good initiative has become a matter of great anxiety for parents as these continuous classes are having negative consequences on the children’s mental and physical health.

Questions could arise on how effective the classes are, but our aim here is to find out the possible negative impacts of these classes on children’s mental health.

The exorbitant rate of screen time makes can exhaust children physically and mentally, affecting their eyes, backs and brain. Many of these students have reported experiencing insomnia.

Abrar, a sixth-grader of a school in Mirpur, has been found displaying uncharacteristic attitudes nowadays.  His father expressed deep concern regarding his behavioural changes.  He is seen to talk alone and does not answer properly when asked something. Abrar, who was once a spontaneous boy, has become dull and lacklustre.

His father lamented that his son was gradually losing his frankness. As both of his parents are jobholders, Abrar mainly communicated with his friends at the school. A long time of detachment from them is making him mentally distressed.

Tamim, a student of class three of a renowned school of the capital has become immensely addicted to electronic gadgets. Being the only child of his parents, he is seen to remain absorbed into the gadgets and this habit is gradually putting him in a mentally perilous situation.

He often shows arrogance with his mother and does not want to listen to any of his parents. Excessive screen time is not only hampering his mental health but also hurting his eyesight severely.

Alvina, a fifth-grader at a school in the capital’s Mohammadpur area, expressed anguish that she missed her friends dearly as she could not go to school. She also told that sitting four hours at a stretch in front of a screen for online classes is hectic for her. Sometimes she gets severe headaches and feels exhausted because of this.

The overall scenario is actually more dreadful than we can imagine. The ongoing pandemic is intensifying mental disorders among our children. Many cases have been found where children are engaged in altercations with elders, even with the parents.

It is high time to address this grave issue seriously. Here, the family should play a pivotal role in children’s mental development. Children are softhearted, therefore should be handled carefully during this unstable period.

Positivity must be promoted during family discussions. They should be kept aloof from social media as much as possible as social media is often seen as a platform for spreading propaganda.

Besides, elders should try to keep them engaged in creative activities with much appreciation, not with a strict hand. We need to keep in mind that our cordial and positive attitude can make them feel safe and boost up their attitude in a positive way even during this Covid-19 pandemic.


Ismail Jobiullah is a sub-editor at The Business Post