Impact of school closures on mental health of children
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Impact of school closures on mental health of children

Post by on Tuesday, August 17, 2021

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Little A started school last year, her perception of school is a teacher who appears on a screen and makes them do things, she doesn’t know school as a geographical location, school buses, tiffin or classrooms.
R passed class 12th in 2021. This was not the kind of last year of school he had ever imagined. No classrooms, no lab work, no meeting friends, no farewells, no parties, no school events. It seems his last year of school didn’t happen, or did it?!
P is in middle school, with all the teenage hormones rushing, she wants to play basketball, attend parties, go for picnics and outings, watch films and go to malls with her friends, but she is also scared of the coronavirus and stays home, it makes her feel restless all the time.
Most children in India now have been out of the physical school for more than a year and a half approximately. For children and adolescents with mental health needs, such closures mean a lack of access to the resources they usually have through schools.
Evidence increasingly shows that the lockdown has had a profound influence on the education, well-being and mental health of many of our youngsters – and this impact will be long term, lasting many, many years. The world-leading developmental psychologist and neuroscientist Professor Uta Frith said recently, at
 ‘Education changes the way we perceive the world and behave in relation to others, and this affects our brain directly'.
The consequences for child development in the years to come could be vast, with impacts likely on self-control, social competence and logical deduction amongst other cognitive abilities.
School routines are important coping mechanisms for all young people more so those who have any mental health issues. When schools are closed, they lose this anchor in life and their symptoms could relapse. Going to school had been a struggle for some children from various margins prior to the pandemic, but at least they had school routines to stick with. Now that schools are closed, some lock themselves up inside their rooms for weeks, refusing to take showers, eat, or leave their beds. For some children with depression, there will be considerable difficulties adjusting back to normal life when school resumes.
Children with special education needs, such as those with autism spectrum disorder, are also at risk. They can become frustrated and short-tempered when their daily routines are disrupted. Parents and caregivers need to create a schedule for their children to reduce anxiety induced by uncertainty. With speech therapy sessions and social skills groups suspended, children with these specific support needs might miss their chance to develop essential skills. New creative ways, such as online speech and social skills training, are needed to make up for the loss.
Many countries are postponing or cancelling entrance exams. Recently the 10th and 12th class CBSE exams weren’t held and a specific system of marking and grading was developed for the same.
The stress levels were at a maximum 10 out of 10, even before the postponement was announced. Some students had been experiencing loss of appetite and sleep problems, and found the uncertainties of whether the exams could be delayed further stressful. They often report being in the grip of a huge wave of fear that they might contract the virus and thus cannot make it to the entrances, exams and interviews. Staying healthy has become another stressor.
Cancellation of anticipated events such as graduation ceremonies and farewell parties also caused huge distress. Students in their final years are anxious about the job market or the next course or institution they will get into just online. In the light of the current academic and financial burden students are under huge distress and so are their families and caregivers.
Social distancing measures can sometimes result in social isolation in an abusive home. Abuse is also likely to be exacerbated during this time of economic uncertainty and stress. Increased rates of child abuse, neglect, and exploitation have also been reported during previous public health emergencies, such as the Ebola outbreak in west Africa from 2014 to 2016.
However, still not much is known about the long-term mental health effects of large-scale disease outbreaks on children and adolescents. Many adolescents themselves are COVID survivors and many have had family members go through it, some witnessed death in families, neighborhood and friend circles due to coronavirus.
As the pandemic continues, it is important to support children and adolescents facing bereavement and issues related to parental unemployment or loss of household income. There is also a need to monitor young people's mental health status over the long term, and to study how prolonged school closures, strict social distancing measures, and the pandemic itself affect the wellbeing of children and adolescents.
The halt in the education system severed students from more than just classrooms, friends and extracurricular activities. It has also cut off children and teenagers from school staff members whose open doors and compassionate advice helped them build self-esteem, navigate the pressures of adolescence and cope with trauma. Mental health experts worry about the psychological toll on a younger generation that was already experiencing soaring rates of depression, anxiety and suicide before the pandemic
Young people already at increased risk of mental health difficulties due to existing deprivation and vulnerabilities were more likely to perceive their mental wellbeing to have deteriorated during lockdown, amplifying existing inequalities. Especially adolescents approaching key examinations in the next academic year and those whose parents were likely performing essential roles during lockdown were in acute stress constantly. There is awareness required for the needs of those children who are most likely eligible for in-school places during periods of national lockdown
Parents, caregivers, families, school staff interacting online with children, neighbors, extended families, neighbors, community members all can do their bit to offer some support to these children in these trying times. In India there is a severe shortage of psychosocial support and mental healthcare workers, hence all of us need to take up basic skills like active listening, creating safe spaces for children to express their stress more and more.
Here are some of things that can be done: -
•       Every child has a unique way of responding to trauma. It is not advisable to require the same response of everyone. Listen to their lived experience stories without judgement.
•       Maintain daily routines for them to the extent possible. This is not the ideal time to introduce new routines. Familiar schedules can be reassuring in distress.
•       Your response to the disaster will affect the response of the child or children connected with you. Therefore, it is helpful to discuss your own reactions with other adults and teachers before talking with the kids.
•       Instructors can provide structured time to discuss mental health in the classroom. Be alert to students expressing overwhelming feelings in discussions. Limiting time can help the student express what they wish without saying more than they might wish they had.
•       Also maintaining the usual classroom routines can be comforting. Even regular schoolwork can also provide some sense of familiarity and comfort to some students.
•       The school faculty and staff can discuss and plan classroom interventions together with parents and caregivers and decide if children need some extra support in any area, for instance exam-related anxiety.
•       Each child is an individual and hence must be given one on one time by adults as well.
•       Discuss about the pandemic or grief or hope in an open honest manner with your students. Children might want to talk intermittently, and younger children might need concrete information to be repeated.
•       Limit exposure to television and other sources of information about the disaster and its victims. Too much exposure increases distress through over identification.
•       Help children limit the extent to which they personalize or identify with the victims or the situation. Remind students of the things that are still safe and in control.
•       Engage them in conversations of their choosing – not necessarily about their feelings or the scene. Talking about the normal events of life is central to health.
•       Increase their sense of control and mastery at school and home. Let them plan a special activity or event.
•       Older children and adolescents may feel “stirred up.” Helping them understand their behavior and setting limits can help.
•       Some children may respond by being distracted or having trouble remembering things. This should be tolerated and understood and they must be given time and help with strategies to cope with this.
•       Be alert to changes in kids’ usual behavior (e.g., drop in grades, loss of interest, not doing homework, increased sleepiness or distraction, isolating themselves, weight loss or gain).

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