During the ongoing COVID19 pandemic, parents have been known to rightly give a great amount of attention to the physical health of their children. However, they are not comfortable addressing any issues concerning mental health in their children in most cases. Parents certainly notice a change in behaviour in their children by norms of being the primary caregivers. But surprisingly they either ignore these changes or try to hide any visible facts thinking it is temporary and expect that kids will outgrow these in due course. However, most of the time these issues can progress and can lead to serious consequences.

The pandemic has created an enormous amount of mental health issues in children. The reasons range across a wide spectrum – including fear of death, inability to attend school, job & financial troubles of parents, social isolation etc. In fact, the mental health pandemic is said to be as widespread and fatal as the COVID19 pandemic, if not more. 

It is an important and vital duty of parents, teachers, the medical fraternity, social workers and counsellors alike, to notice the early signs of emotional turmoil in children and accordingly recommend the required referral. Let’s understand how one can address the mental and emotional issues in a child.

Why is it important to address mental health issues early? 

Mental health disorders in children can be many. The most common of these are anxiety, depression, oppositional defiance disorder etc. These can affect a child’s happiness and academic performance resulting in damaging consequences. It’s reported that 10.8% of the world’s suicide in adolescents occurs alone in India.

What are the symptoms in a child with mental health issues? 

If any of the below symptoms persist for more than 2 weeks in a child, it is worrisome and need to be addressed urgently:

  • Frequent mood swings 
  • Impulsive and risky behaviour 
  • Refusal to go to school
  • Avoiding  family and friends
  • Anger and rage attacks
  • Difficulty in sleeping and loss of appetite.
  • Falling  grades and poor performance in schools
  • Using drugs and tobacco

What is stress and how does it occur?

It is a fact that some amount of stress is essential for improving our efforts and performance. However, too much of it leads to distress, resulting in failures and poor health.

One way to tackle stress is to write down the cause of stress. A stressor may be internal, that is lack of skills, negative thought process, tendency to procrastinate. It may be external factors too – like a disturbed family, peer pressure, bullying, academic burden etc. By understanding the cause of stress, one can focus on the ways to manage the same.

How to manage stress ?

There’s a saying, “Always master stress and never let it master you.”

It’s important to teach time management to a child. If a child understands that a difficult task may be broken into smaller segments and that over a period of time the task will not appear difficult, he’ll understand how to better manage his time to complete the task.

We must emphasize positive thinking to make teenagers feel confident. Coping statements like ‘’I can do it.” makes one feel good. Teaching behaviour modification, to be realistic, to avoid temptation and persistent efforts can work wonders to give a child confidence.

Creating a diversion mechanism is another fruitful trick. We can teach children to channel stress into doing something creative.

Again, relaxation techniques, balanced diet, adequate sleep, deep breathing exercises, yoga, pursuing hobbies, mindfulness and meditation are definitely helpful tactics.

How can mental health issues be prevented ?

  • Training faculty and staff members in schools to identify children with mental health concern symptoms
  • Prevent ragging and bullying in school
  • Create awareness about deliberate  self-harm
  • Building peer groups in schools to support one another
  • Making mental health information available during orientation in educational institutes.

We must note that the main role in addressing and preventing mental health issues in children is and must be again played by the caretakers. They can do so by spending time with the children, by showing empathy, by always being approachable and available in a stressful situation, and thus by creating and providing a nurturing environment for children. 

About the Author: Dr. Uma Rao is a practicing pediatrician in Bangalore for the past 30 years, Her special interest is in adolescent health. She is a voluntary doctor in Youth for Seva, Doctors for Seva group, and at Project StepOne.

Dr. Uma Rao

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