Published: 12th October 2020
Is your child loving the extended pandemic vacay or is it eating into their mental health?
A long-pending and much-neglected matter that needs urgent intervention now than ever before is students' mental health
The academic year 2020 began with silent corridors, empty classrooms and vacant playgrounds in every school. School life seemed lifeless to many. When the wait prolonged and uncertainty became the norm, something within most children started dying slowly and surely.
A long-pending and much-neglected matter that needs urgent intervention now than ever before is students' mental health. The Kerala State Crime Records Bureau (SCRB) figures that showed a staggering 66 children who died by suicide within four months into the lockdown implies the huge dearth of support that families and children receive with respect to mental health in our state. With suicide being decriminalised, the number of children who attempt it and fortunately not lose lives will, unfortunately, go unaccounted. It is for us to be aware and understand that if it’s in their MIND, it MATTERS.
Students, when asked what part of the school they miss now, would unanimously say socialising with friends, interactions with teachers, outdoor play and the school celebrations. These were unintended, but natural mental health safety buffers for most children. However, trying to compensate for these using a virtual model of schooling is probably a road to hell, paved with good intentions.
Parents who now work from home or outside end up leaving children in all their vulnerabilities unsupervised on the internet. Children are now more privy to issues between parents which aggravated due to financial strain, anxieties about health, job and more in almost every home. Children facing abuse from family members or exposed to domestic violence are now left at the mercy of parents who are themselves in need of help.
Teachers struggle to connect with individual students as they are now reduced to an image on the screen with a muted voice. Students thus seek more and more support and comfort in screens or worse - from strangers online via social media or gaming sites.
All of the above has the potential to lead to Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) that act as a significant underlying cause for many physical and mental health issues in adulthood. It is evident that we cannot look for solutions in that which created the problem in the first place. Technology and screens when handed over to children before they are mature enough to use it responsibly can cause more harm than good.
The solution is simpler than we think if we make a conscious effort. Let us gift back to our children space where they can spend enough physical energy at play, healthy food by keeping the junk away, a good night’s sleep with screens away at least two hours before bedtime, opportunities for real conversations. Also, allow them to talk about and express all emotions without restrain and still feel safe, allow boredom without compensating it with more screen time or snacking. To conclude, may we genuinely value and talk about mental health not just for one day or week of the year, instead acknowledge it and seek timely help if and when we are worried about our own or our loved one’s mental health.
The author is a psychologist and researcher based out of Kochi. She is also the co-founder of the advocacy group Together We Can
The opinions expressed are her own
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