Coronavirus pandemic, for children and adolescents (10 to 24 years of age), is much more than the COVID-19 outbreak. Its related loneliness and anxiety risk long-term ill effects on their mind. This fast-spreading infectious disease has proved to be the gravest health crisis of the time.
Every few minutes, people hear the media announce the rapid progression of COVID-19. In a matter of a few days, it has crossed all boundaries, into every city on the globe. People are caught defenseless against this rapidly advancing invisible infectious bug.
Coronavirus pandemic has robbed the freedom to activities that were once every day social norms. The governments of most countries have declared a complete lockdown of all the public places. Schools, workplaces, and the markets are all shut. Work from home is the order of the day.
Enforced social distancing demands behavioral modification with no concern for its emotional impact. Social networks suddenly stand dissolved. Face to face interaction is lost. Squabbles with peers and relaxed hanging out with friends, today seem to be a thing of the past. What prevails is the nagging fear of COVID-19, which is gnawing away the hope.
To get through a crisis like that of Coronavirus pandemic, one needs the right balance of fear and hope, fear to abide by the measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19, and hope to maintain the mental health. But children see only panic around them. They see some denying the existence of the risk to the extent that they ignore preventive precautions, while others indulge in panic purchases. They do not know how to react.
They fear the deadly disease, which could be contracted even by going out to play. Distressing thoughts cloud their mind. Numerous misgivings get triggered by continuous updates on constantly evolving novel coronavirus. Their heart gets filled with despair, and confidence gets drained due to fading supplies, lack of social support, failing finances, and inadequate health care facilities.
The “worried well” flood into hospitals, jeopardizing the health system that already seems highly compromised during the outbreak. The unapproachable medical care, compulsory quarantine, and loss of social interaction are all seen as an infringement on human rights and needs.
Lock-down of workplaces has inflicted an unprecedented acute economic crisis. Companies laid off a large proportion of their employees. Family resources thin out. Anxious adults begin to snap at each other, and at times, even resort to violence.
The socio-economic insecurity experienced by the parents does not leave their children untouched. Even unborn babies are affected. Parenting under emotional distress has the potential to create developmental and educational lacunae and leave longstanding effects on children and youth’s mental health.
The pandemic is not just about a virus infecting people. It is a blend of emotional and behavioral reactions to the threat. The authorities proclaim the prevention of the progression of coronavirus pandemic to be a social responsibility of each individual. But people perceive no escape from the novel virus, which is presumably present everywhere.
Unable to express their anxiety, the younger ones take to excessive crying, temper tantrums, fussy food choices, and undefined aches and pains. It drives the parents to edge, a situation wherein child abuse is not unheard of.
The older children and teenagers try to help but find themselves being more of impedance rather than assistance. The social and emotional well-being of adolescents rests upon healthy peer relationship. They need friends to calm their nerves, but the social distancing negates the option. Anxious and depressed, they sulk. They feel inadequate. Their self-esteem gets battered.
Adolescence (the stage between 10 and 24 years) is a unique period of life when peer interaction plays a crucial role in intelligence development, self-concept construction, and mental health. They would very much want to run away from the situation, but duty-bound, they stand by the rules and principles of social distancing in the hope of minimizing the threat from the deadly coronavirus pandemic.
COVID-19 has created a social vacuum. Loneliness and boredom have left children depressed and anxious. Lack of peer contact negatively affects their skills development. Their ability to handle stress fails. Anxiety gets bottled up.
A depressed and anxious mind is neither able to think logically nor make appropriate decisions. And if the two negative emotions persist for months together, they often lead to serious mental health issues like suicidal ideation, personality disorder, or psychosis.
The impact of coronavirus pandemic on the mind of children lasts much longer than the outbreak itself. Its effects on mental health prevail as an altered social and emotional approach of the people, but often go unnoticed until they take the form of psychological disorder.
Adolescents are at a much higher risk of succumbing to the negative emotions than small children, who have a much higher capacity to bounce back from difficulties. Those with pre-existing mental illness or substance abuse are particularly vulnerable.
The effect on the minds of the emotionally disturbed is more severe. In the face of the stress, they can develop delusions, lack of insight, and increased usage of health care facilities.
Conversely, those who receive substantial emotional support from parents (and the significant others in their environment) have better chances of tiding over the crisis of coronavirus pandemic without any permanent ill effect on their mind.
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