Children’s mental health has been the biggest casualty during the lockdown, say psychologists

A 6-year old in Bengaluru is barely eating because she thinks her parents have punished her for the past 40 days. A 3-year old in Mumbai asked her parents if she dies from the virus, will they get a step daughter similar to step parents one reads about in fairy tales? A 15-year old has been put under medication for panic attacks because family time was spent watching news about the latest Covid-19 cases.

Children’s mental health has been the biggest casualty during the lockdown, said child therapists and psychologists. Worried parents have kept these professionals busy calling about psychosomatic disorders their children exhibit.

“Anxiety travels faster than a virus. I get foursix calls a week from parents whose children are showing behavioural changes during lockdown,” said Harish Shetty, social psychiatrist for LH Hiranandani hospital, Mumbai.

“Some cases have been so severe that they were asked to come to the hospital for medications… Once the lockdown is lifted, there will be an avalanche of such cases,” said the doctor.

Shetty recollected a case where a six-year old woke up continuously with nightmares of the virus chasing him. “Children dream of their days in school, playgrounds but now they are cooped up inside and are not making happy memories”.

The daily Zoom classes and homework from the school is not helping either.

“Classes start from 9.30 am and continue till 3 pm, followed by homework. When they cannot see their friends, interact with teachers, sitting in a room and staring at the computer screen for most of the day does not help,” said Naveena S, a Mumbai-based mother.

Parents and doctors ET spoke to said psychosomaticsymptoms aredisplayedbychildrenacross age groups.

“Teenagers are hooked on to their gaming consoles and the lockdown has led to them sleeping at 5 am, even skipping meals, in some cases. Back aches from reclining posture, dry eyes, aggressive behaviour and strained equation with parents are some of the signs,” said Zirak Marker, child and adolescent psychiatrist.

Further, there are reports of 15-17-year olds who are very nervous because their board examinations have been cancelled.

Some had plans to head abroad and others were all set to take next set of exams for their professional courses. The uncertainty, coupled with the anxiety they sense in their parents, mingled with household talks of poor economy, job loss etc is worrisome.

However, some have settled down well after initial stages of feeling isolated.

“She sees her parents at home, has weekly calls with her cousins and friends. Initially she did not understand why some were playing in the gardens but not her. But now, via video calls with cousins from across the globe, she has realised she is not the only one stuck at home,” said Arushi Sharma, a 36-year old mother of a 5-year old daughter.

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