MNA Editorial Desk: COVID-19 pandemic is still a life threatening issue around the world, including Bangladesh. For around 6-8 months, varying in different countries, the whole world is passing an appalling time. The pandemic is affecting lives in different ways – economically, financially, physically, mentally etc. The lockdowns have been lifted off at most of the places and most of the institutions; even public places have been opened. People are moving out of their safe shelters for different reasons and the life is coping up with the concept of ‘new normal’. But, apparently COVID-19 might have most negatively influenced the lives of children all around the world. It is very hard for them to maintain mental health and growth during this situation and we need to vividly think about improving the scenario for them.
Although medical literature shows that children are minimally susceptible to coronavirus, they are hit the hardest by psychosocial impact of this pandemic. Being quarantined in homes may impose greater psychological burden than the physical sufferings caused by the virus. School closure, lack of outdoor activity, abnormal dietary and sleeping habits are likely to disrupt children’s usual lifestyle and can potentially promote monotony, distress, impatience, annoyance and varied neuropsychiatric manifestations. Incidences of domestic violence, child abuse are also on the rise.
A study in China’s Hubei province, where the pandemic originated, examined a sample group of 2,330 schoolchildren for signs of emotional distress. The kids had been locked down for an average of 33.7 days. Even after that single month, 22.6% of them reported depressive symptoms and 18.9% were experiencing anxiety.
To prevent the outbreak of COVID-19, Bangladesh has closed all the academic institutions from March 17, 2020. Therefore, about 3.7 million students and more than a million teachers are staying at home. It negatively impacted children’s well-being through disruption of their health care, nourishment, security, education and overall mental health. Thus, it becomes important to decide how extended school closures, social distancing steps and the pandemic itself have impacts on the mental health status of children in Bangladesh. But unfortunately, very less work is going on in this regard.
Schools play an evolving role, not just in supplying learning resources to children, but also in offering students a chance to correspond with teachers and obtain psychosomatic counseling. Moreover, evidence shows that whenever children are beyond schooling, they become physically less active, have much-prolonged screen time, irregular sleep schedules and less healthy diets etc–resulting in excess weight and lack of cardio-respiratory performance. Additionally, pandemic stressors such as terror of infection, dissatisfaction and boredom, lack of knowledge, lack of personal space at home and family’s financial loss may have even more troublesome and enduring impacts on children’s mental health.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 4.4 million children between the ages of 3 to 17 years have been diagnosed with anxiety and 1.9 million have been identified with depression because of home quarantine due to COVID-19 in the United States. Moreover, about three in four children are having depression along with anxiety. The effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on children’s mental well-being is worrying 60% of parents, according to a survey by parents with primary-aged children and 87% reported that their children were missing school and less than half stated that their children were feeling lonely, which altogether affects their children’s mental health and well-being.
One of the important things in protecting a child is a healthy relationship with at least one supportive, caring adult. It offers mental stamina to them. Beyond the family, children’s relationships with their friends are also disrupted due to the pandemic disease. Social interactions also play an important role in children’s social development. During limited social interactions, creative online video chats and text messaging circles with relatives and friends can help to overcome monotony.
Children can perceive time differently to adults, and a few weeks or months out of school may seem like a much longer period of time to them. This means children tend to feel anxious at any period of time because of their being out of school. They fear they will not be able to catch up and thus start to worry that the longer schools are closed, the more likely they are to forget what they previously learned.
Bangladesh government has declared closure of all educational institutes till the end of September, which can be extended more as a second wave of COVID-19 is expected. Children are in utmost uncertainty regarding their exams and missing of educational year. Though online teaching is being widely practiced, the system is not much helpful especially in the case of rural children. China and several European countries opened the educational institutes but most of them were forced to shut down–amid signs of spread of coronavirus among children and staffs.
Reportedly, majority of the children all around the world are portraying negative mental health concerns during COVID-19 pandemic which requires special focus. In many countries entertainment hubs like; parks, amusement parks etc were opened so that children can visit those places with their parents. In Bangladesh also, the government should open such places with specific safety measures. Parents should take their children out now and then maintaining full safety, may be even for a drive around the city. The children should get used to the outer world a bit. Otherwise, not only they will suffer now, but also there will be difficulty in coping up when the schools reopen.
Parents must prioritize spending quality times with their children when at home. They should never be impatient with their children and must answer the queries with patience. Parents should also motivate their children to do some creative works like; writing, reading story books, tree plantation, crafting etc. Moreover, they should put effort to involve children in household assistance as that would keep them physically active. If possible, indoor games like; chess, carom etc. should be played regularly.
Additionally, parents must keep an eye to keep children away from any negative things like; depressing news, pornographic materials, excess use of social media and electronic gadgets. Government should arrange special television programs for children which will enhance their creativity resulting in healthy mental growth. All private television channels can also take this step as we have not seen any constructive steps from the media in this aspect. These programs must be widely campaigned. It has become ever more important to get more involved with children for the sake of family as well as society as mental imbalance and improper growth during this COVID-19 can have long-term adverse impact.
If not adequately or appropriately addressed, the mental health consequences for a generation of children and young people could far surpass the immediate health and economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. And it will leave long-term social and economic consequences. Bangladesh has progressed a lot during the last decade under the leadership of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. But we need to sustain that progress, for which we need physically and mentally healthy future generations. Hence, we hope everyone give utmost importance in maintaining children’s mental health during this COVID-19 pandemic period.
The writer is Chief Editor at Mohammadi News Agency (MNA), Editor at Kishore Bangla and Chief Patron, Bangabandhu Shishu Kishore Mela