TIRUCHY: 12-year old Sarath (name changed) is an intelligent, outgoing boy. In the past year, his parents started noticing several changes in his behaviour. The lockdowns, closure of schools, inability to meet friends, go out and play had a deep impact on Sarath, say his parents. He would not concentrate during online classes, his appetite reduced, and the usually cheerful child became very quiet and pensive.
It took several counselling sessions for Sarath to open up and share his problems.
Like Sarath, the mental health of several children has been impacted in the past two years, due to the pandemic. According to a UNICEF report, The State of the World's Children 2021, around 14 per cent of 15 to 24-year-olds in India, or 1 in 7, reported often feeling depressed or having little interest in doing things.
In the same report, it is mentioned that more than 1 in 7 adolescents aged 10-19 is estimated to live with a diagnosed mental disorder globally.
On World Mental Health Day, which falls on 10th October, The New Indian Express spoke to psychologists about the repercussions of the pandemic on children, and how parents can identify if their child is having mental health problems. The theme of this year's World Mental Health Day, is 'Mental health in an unequal world'.
"Being at home, children have had been limited interaction with their peer groups. Age appropriate activities are restricted. This has led to several social and cultural problems too. The disruption to routines, education, recreational activities is leaving many children afraid, angry, and concerned," says Dr. Karthik Deivanayagam, District Psychiatrist, Pudukkottai.
Doctors say that schools are extremely important for the social development of a child. The development that happens in schools cannot be substituted by online classes, according to doctors.
"Children don't have the attention span required for online classes. We have been observing speech delay in 2-3 year old kids who've never gone to school. Since their interactions are restricted, we have observed that many children are having speech delays. Parents are not equipped to fulfil all the needs of their child, a school is required," says Dr Siddhika Aiyer, Consultant Psychiatrist, Gleneagles Global Health City.
A very small proportion of adults also seek mental health help in our country, it's the same in children. Parents must be aware of changes in their children and seek timely help.
Doctors say that children develop mental health issues by the age of 14, but it comes to the fore only after 10 years.
"In the age of 13-19, mental health issues are common. Suicide is one of the major reasons for death in this age group. 75-85 per cent people don't seek treatment for their mental health problems. This is due to social inequality. Due to lack of access to treatment, stigma around mental health, children don't seek treatment. Since their issues are not addressed, it comes out as violence, substance abuse," says Dr Sunilkumar, Clinical psychologist.
He says that social equity is needed to address mental health problems. Doctors say that there are subtle signs that parents have to watch out for.
"If a child is isolating themselves, not talking a lot, becomes fussy about eating, gets up in the middle of night crying, imagining that something bad is going to, it may be a cry for help. Any change in routine/behaviour may be an indicator that something is wrong. Don't scold your child if you notice a change, he or she may become even more reserved. When you notice a change, try to understand what the child is feeling. Don't negate what the child is feeling. Make them open up, validate their feelings," says Dr Siddhika.