Managing Anxiety And Depression In School-Age Children During COVID-19 Pandemic

The contagious Covid-19 has stimulated an irremediable health crisis and has increased the burden of mental illness among students. The deadly virus has wreaked unprecedented havoc on millions of lives, pushing many of them to an untimely demise. As the country fights against the virus, the suicide has emerged as the second-leading cause of non-coronavirus deaths in India as revealed in the data compiled by journalist Rachel Chitra. Every one hour one student commits suicide in India. About 12 percent of Indian students aged four to sixteen suffer from psychiatric disorders. Furthermore, approximately 20 percent of them show signs of mental disorders, out of which 2-5 percent have serious issues such as autism or bipolar disorder.

Amidst the pandemic, the young minds are unable to attend schools, cannot play, and engage in social interactions. And they begin to develop a negative attitude toward life, believing that their lives have no meaning, which leads to depression and health-risk behaviours. Students are socially isolated and deprived from face-to-face learning experiences. It hampers their creative exposures and learning outcomes. Moreover, many students do not have the means of accessing digital platforms and as a result, they fail to attend online classes. Also, a number of cases have been reported in several parts of India, in which students from marginalized groups committed suicides due to inaccessibility to attend online classes. Furthermore, fear of the virus does not prevent schoolchildren from becoming anxious. Anxiety, loneliness, and depression are tremendously impeding these learners’ ability to do anything productive at home. So, it is necessary to adapt some realistic steps that are sufficed to moderate mental health problems among students, as follows.

Mental illness is an outcome of multiple factors-induced psychological problems, and to tackle these problems is difficult. However, experts agree that it is preferable to talk about the depression. It is time to virtually open the door and reach out to those in need who are struggling with mental health burdens. Firstly, parental attitudes need to be changed towards children’s mental health problems. They must be aware that their children may have anxiety and depression issues. Home can be the first centre where symptoms can be observed and identified before it is too late.

Secondly, teachers who are considered as next to parents can play a decisive role in ensuring children’s physical, social, and emotional health during this coronavirus pandemic. However, unfortunately what happens in the educational institutions is that most of the teachers are not aware and fully equipped to have a sense of deeper understanding of the mental health issues faced by school-going students. Many teachers are also even ill-equipped with the knowledge to recognise the early symptoms of mental health problems in students. Henceforth, teachers should have an understanding of the different risk-factors that jeopardise students’ positive mental health. Teachers should also be empowered with a strong supportive system in the institutions to tackle students’ mental health problems such as racial or religious discrimination, financial problems, substance abused, juvenile delinquency, bullying, persistent feeling of sadness, suicidal behaviors, disruptive behaviors, inferiority complex, and trouble focusing behaviors.

Thirdly, educational institutions must provide virtual guidance and counseling to children who are vulnerable to health-risk behaviors such as drug abuse, substance use, tobacco consumption, and alcoholic behavior. The resilience factors must be extended to students for better adjustment to difficult situations and to recover from mental illness through family support and love, peer-supports, and by sense of developing purpose in life, and helping them in conflict resolutions.

Fourthly, adolescence is the stage of ‘stress and storm’ where greater changes happen in physic-biological and socio-emotional realms of individuals. So, efforts should be made on the part of teachers to develop an understanding of the stage and associative experiences with students’ transformation from childhood to adulthood. Besides, in such a case, the education with regard to mental health is needed to be embedded into school curriculum. It will help children to understand themselves and empower them with improved skills in inter-personal understanding and in coping with different unfortunate situations from the very early of their lives which will directly help them in later family, social, and professional lives.

Fifthly, as in e-learning systems, students attend classes sitting at home, so, teachers and parents need to work together through the ‘home-school online partnership’. To regulate online classes, teachers should establish a ‘spontaneous collaboration’ with parents. Schools should also encourage students to engage in extra-curricular activities at home. Several studies have shown that indoor-game, yoga, and physical exercise too help students grow positive mental health.

Sixthly, in the midst of this crisis, mindfulness-based cognitive therapies play a pivotal role in fostering physical as well as mental health among school-age students. Practicing various mindfulness techniques not only helps to cultivate physical health but it also has psychological benefits. Mindfulness techniques help students in feeling happy and connecting with their immediate surroundings. It helps individuals with stress to become calmer. Furthermore, it enhances students’ level of engagement. Students who have feelings of anxiety everyday can try a breathing technique, such as box breading. Commanding and paying closed focus on breathing is a scientifically-proven technique of making individuals feel positive and good. So, it is important for teachers and parents to encourage students to engage in daily mindfulness practices.

Seventhly, there must be a strong coordination among government bodies, schools, community, and parents to help out school-age children. Mental health therapy and counseling must be available for students in time. Attempt must also be taken to dismantle mental health stigma in common people through campaigns at national level. Awareness of mental health is needed to boost through different digital media.

Eighthly, a sense of togetherness and connection directly aids learners in avoiding risky behaviours and suicidal thoughts. Students will benefit greatly from caring, loving, and supportive conversations. Students who are stressed require social groups or other platforms where they can feel more grounded, supportive, and restrained from committing suicide by sharing their stress.

Ninthly, being constantly bombarded with fear-inducing news can have a significant impact on students’ mental health. Hearing anxiety-inducing news causes the body to go into a stress-response mode. Managing social media, social networks, and blogs will have a significant impact on how individuals feel and remain connected with immediate milieu. Henceforth, students should try to spend as little time as possible listening to, watching, or reading about the outbreak.

Finally, good quality sleep has a significant impact on how students mentally and emotionally stay engaged and happy. However, worrying can make falling asleep difficult. So, it is necessary to set a time for dinner and the activities that follow afterward. It is preferable to avoid using cellphones at night and to keep other electric gadgets at least one hour before going to bed. Also, it is important for students to know that avoiding difficult topics and continuing with light topics that make them feel good and interesting will help them sleep pleasantly.

Nawaz Sarif is a Ph.D. scholar and a UGC fellow at the School of Education, North-Eastern Hill University (NEHU), Shillong, India. He has completed his master’s degree at Banaras Hindu University (BHU), Varanasi, India. Presently, he works on ‘the development of psychological capital amongst students’.


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