Almost one in forty children living under COVID-19 lockdown, social restrictions and school closures are dealing with feelings of anxiety, with many at risk of lasting psychological distress, including depression. In recent surveys by Save the Children of over 6000 children and parents in India, up to 65 percent of the children struggled with boredom and feelings of isolation. Even as several countries gradually begin lifting their lockdowns, many schools remain closed—affecting almost 1.3 billion children and students worldwide —and strict social restrictions are likely to remain in place across the globe.

This leaves children and youth who are already at risk—such as those living in challenging home environments or children who are lacking social support or whose families are already facing poverty —especially vulnerable. Research shows that feelings of helplessness, loneliness and fear of being socially excluded or separated from loved ones are common in any epidemic, while prolonged stress, boredom and social isolation, as well as a lack of outdoor play, can lead to a higher number of mental health conditions in children, such as anxiety and even depression.

It is rightly said: “People who are outside on a perpetual basis have a lower activity in the part of the brain that focuses on repetitive negative emotions. This is one of the reasons children can slide into negative feelings or even depression during the circumstances they are living in now.” In the surveys recently conducted, several children reported feeling anxious, bored and fearful. Being unable to play outside with friends or fears of falling behind in their education, added to their feelings of deprivation and anxiety.

Among other things, the surveys also revealed that nearly most of the students are facing higher levels of distress than normal, and many households reported their children were struggling with fear, fatigue, anguish and concern about their family’s situation. The children reported they were worried about the current pandemic, especially of falling ill with the virus.

“I feel afraid. It is a pandemic and things are infected… and my mother goes out to work and it scares me”, said one of the students living in India.

“While children are resilient, we cannot underestimate the impact the pandemic is having on their mental well-being and overall health. Children in a stable environment are likely to fare better but many children are not so fortunate. Those who are living in poverty, who are experiencing violence at home, or are otherwise vulnerable can really be pushed over the edge by long lasting lockdowns—in the worst cases if left unaddressed this could escalate to depression and other mental health concerns. The mental health impacts of COVID-19 could be seen far beyond the life of the pandemic.”

Parents are calling on governments to prioritize and invest in children’s mental health, wellbeing and learning as part of their response to the outbreak. This includes support for children living in the world’s poorest and most fragile cities or conflict affected communities that may be less equipped to respond to the needs of children who could be separated from parents due to illness, isolation measures or bereavement.

In addition, all children have access to support services during and after lockdown, and prioritizing the work of social care providers, including by classifying them as essential services, so they have the resources and capacity to do their work.

Schools, social services and authorities to monitor children during lockdowns and continue case management through remote approaches until society and schools reopen and further support is being provided. This includes ensuring distance learning accessible for all children, which should contain messages on health, hygiene and keeping safe.

Parents and teachers receive support to maintain structure and routine for the children, and to keep children engaged in play and learning activities in school and at home. Mechanisms to be in place for early detection of signs, such as sudden changes in behaviour, unusual persistent sadness, excessive worry, a lack of concentration, trouble sleeping, or exhaustion, which could point towards looming mental health issues such as depression.

Doctors say: “Children are suffering enormous upheaval on a scale that we have not seen in this lifetime. There have been many sudden changes to their lives and so much is yet unknown about the long-term impacts of this crisis, which requires us to be vigilant and do everything possible to limit the impact on young minds.”

“While some countries are starting to re-open schools, many children are still missing out on an education. It’s important that all countries are able to detect and respond to signs of distress and depression among children during lock-down and once these children return to public life.”

Lastly, we all must join hands to work and pray to fight against this pandemic situation because together we can and together we will.

Written by :- Mr. Aakarshan Banerjee, PGT English, MRIS, Noida