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Mental Distress In Children - What Should You Look Out For?

This article has been written in collaboration with Sanjana Khanna, a counseling psychologist and trainer. You can see more of her work here

The year 2020 has been a year of firsts. Nobody could have anticipated a pandemic, tons of announcements, declarations and constant amendments in policies. Amidst all this, all of us got a lot of time to reflect and introspect, and an opportunity to debunk myths around a commonly underrated issue, that is mental health.

We all witnessed a sudden upsurge in the dissemination of information regarding mental health. Blogs and articles that spoke about various facets of the topics began gaining a huge following. The world witnessed people coming out of their comfort zones and talking about their experiences, and this became a hot topic of debate on various fronts.

A quick fact check- Did you know that quite a few mental health professionals claimed that in the current situation, mental health issues amongst children were much more prevalent than issues concerning their physical health? Stress, irritability and anxiety related disturbances were found in a large age group, right from infants to teenagers.

A lot of parents out there are struggling with a ‘new normal’. Each day has brought with it new challenges, and striking a balance between home, work and kids has become quite a daunting task. Boundaries have started blurring, and as time stretches ahead amidst such chaos, it helps to keep a calm mindset, and prepare for future adversities in advance.

As adults, we can identify red flags and warning signs in a seamless manner, but all children may not be well equipped to cope in the same way. The emotions they face may be mind boggling to them, and they may not be able to express their emotions freely either. Thus, the onus of helping them work through their emotions falls on their parents and other family members.

Here is a checklist that can help you get started:

§ Thoughts like “Will I also get affected by this disease?”, “Will my parents fall sick?”, “What will I do without them?”, “Will I die?” not only creates negative thinking, but also affects the overall personality of the child.

§ Emotions like fear, anxiety and stress are overwhelming for children. Being exposed to an information overload through social media and witnessing the distress of elderly family members, creates a lasting mental impact and may even leave a scar on their self-identity.

§ Behaviours like going into an indefinite quarantine in the fear of contracting an infection, also contributes to creating a disturbing mindset. Children may start adopting unhealthy and maladaptive behaviour patterns, that may affect them adversely in the long run.

Now, the question of winning an unwanted battle arises. And it goes without saying, that with consistent efforts, steady progress in the right direction can be made.

Warning signs that parents should look out for include:

  • Constant need for emotional support/clinginess

  • Child appears detached, aloof or isolated

  • Constant worry and sulking

  • Loss of sleep and/or appetite

  • Loss of interest in activities that the child previously enjoyed

  • Boredom and avolition

  • Faulty learning and unhealthy habit formations

  • Sudden changes in behaviour, aggression and tantrums

  • Suicidal thoughts or ideations

It is highly recommended that parents should carefully search for such signs and try to address them at the earliest. They can do so by seeking help from the child’s teachers and school counsellors and working with them in earnest.

Parents play the role of the primary caregivers in a child’s life, and thus should keep their patience while addressing the child’s queries. Brushing the child’s doubts under the carpet may aggravate feelings of fear and anxiety. Providing the child with reassurance and comfort, even amidst uncertainty is a step in the right direction.

To take positive steps in such trying times, our own mental health should also be a priority. After all, self-care and a positive attitude is contagious. So, let us make self-care and kindness a priority. Let us all be kind to one another and cut each other some slack. Most of all, let us be kind to ourselves and make way for a fulfilling life ahead. By - Sanjana Khanna Edited by - Anusha Taarinie Jha Graphic by - Niharika Suri #studentsinlockdown #childreninlockdown #parentsinlockdown #mentalhealth

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