AIIMS doctor suggests ways of minimizing negative impact of COVID pandemic on mental health of children
New Delhi: Dr Rajesh Sagar, Professor, Department of Psychiatry, All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) New Delhi and Member of Central Mental Health Authority has recently explained the impact of the pandemic on the mental health of children and also suggested ways to address it. While speaking about the effects of the pandemic and its impact on children, Dr Sagar addressed...
New Delhi: Dr Rajesh Sagar, Professor, Department of Psychiatry, All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) New Delhi and Member of Central Mental Health Authority has recently explained the impact of the pandemic on the mental health of children and also suggested ways to address it.
While speaking about the effects of the pandemic and its impact on children, Dr Sagar addressed the question of how the pandemic has affected children's mental health.
He pointed out, " Children are delicate—physically as well as psychologically. Any form of stress, worry, trauma can affect them deeply and lead to long-lasting repercussions. The pandemic has altered their normal activities—their schools are shut; the education has shifted to online and their interaction with peers is restricted and limited. Besides, there are some who have lost one or both parents or relatives or caregivers."
All these factors can affect the mental wellbeing of children, depriving them of the emotionally fulfilling environment, important for their normal growth and development.
When asked what is the biggest challenge that he had to face while dealing with distressed children, the doctor stated that unlike adults, children react differently in stressful situations. " Some children become clingy, some are withdrawn, some become aggressive, some depressed. So, it is difficult to understand the mental state of children. What we know is the fact that the surrounding environment affects the emotion or moods of children. At times, children internalise a situation. Panic, illness, or death of near and dear ones can affect them adversely and at times, they may not be able to express their fears, anxiety, or worries", the doctor added.
Advising the adults to keep a watch on the behaviour of children, the doctor further stated, " During the current crisis, it is also important that adults 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."
"The impact of the pandemic on children cannot be addressed with direct questions; caregivers need to be gentle while communicating with children as they may be unaware of what is happening to them internally. So, it is important to encourage usage of creative ways in understanding them but communicate directly when discussing difficult topics, like infection, death, and so on", suggested the doctor.
The first five-six years of a child's life are said to be the foundational years when a child requires various stimuli for normal growth and development. Hence, another query that often troubles people is " How is a pandemic affecting younger children and how can the effect be minimized?" Addressing the question, the doctor affirmed that the first five years, indeed, are very crucial in a child's life and providing the child multi-modal stimulus is important. Lack of a positive environment, lack of stimulation, or social interactions can affect them adversely.
"Though we cannot put children at risk of catching the infection, we need to build a fun-filled, environment where children can be engaged in various activities. Even online education should focus on activity-based learning. I strongly feel that we need to devise methods that are enjoyable and safe as well so that we can minimise the impact of the pandemic on children", Dr Sagar added.
He also gave advice for Older children who are facing uncertainty on the academic front.
While normalizing their feeling of uncertainty, the doctor stated that the pandemic has disrupted their education and career plans. " Here the role of the parents, caregivers, or teacher becomes very crucial. They need to guide the children that there is not much we can do about the situation, and they are not in it alone, rather there are many other children across the globe who are facing a similar dilemma. It is also important for the parents to accept the reality and pass it on to the children while supporting them throughout the process. The education boards are being flexible in taking exams and so, I think, we will reach a point when this virus will not impact their education and career choice so adversely", stated the doctor.
When questioned if the pandemic has put a special focus on parenting. How would you counsel parents, the doctor informed that with the fine line between the workspace and personal space blurring, many parents are finding it difficult to deal with the added responsibility of looking after the academic needs of their children. Furthermore, children of every age group have different needs—they need, time, attention, engagement, resources, and a happy environment.
The doctor vehemently urged the parents to ensure a healthy home environment for the children. " A stressful environment at home can be a trigger for a mental health condition, but a safe environment can protect them from existing mental health concerns. For parents to be able to engage children, they need to be in a positive frame of mind themselves. Parents need to find ways to calm themselves. They need to streamline their daily activities so that they can take out time for children. Those who are unable to cope with the stress should seek support from family, friends, or professionals", stated the doctor.
Sanchari Chattopadhyay has pursued her M.A in English and Culture Studies from the University of Burdwan, West Bengal. She likes observing cultural specificities and exploring new places.