Pandemic taking a toll on children's mental health

By Thuy Quynh, Le Cam   September 15, 2021 | 08:00 pm PT
Pandemic taking a toll on children's mental health
A child in a protective suit prepares to enter Covid-19 quarantine in Hanoi's Thanh Xuan District, September 1, 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Giang Huy
Thanh Hue was cooking when she heard her 5-year-old daughter wail. The little girl was watching a video that showed doctors and volunteers lying on the floor.

"Since the pandemic began, she's been taking in too much information. She calls whoever wears a protective suit 'Ministry of Health,' cries out and says she 'pities the Ministry of Health.'

She can’t help crying every time she watches videos, her tears gush out, Hue said.

Both Hue and her husband, residents of Binh Duong Province, had contracted Covid-19. Their entire neighborhood had been locked down and it was wearying, stressful experience for the girl. When the couple got infected and had to go into quarantine, the girl's anxiety magnified and it could be seen that her psychological health had taken a blow. She was later taken to the quarantine facility so she could be with her parents, in the hope that her mental health would be restored.

Back home, she is prone to crying often, especially on seeing videos or images related to the pandemic.

Also in Binh Duong, Tuyet, who has two children aged three and five, saw them impacted by the lockdown. She said children need to interact with society outside the family environment to grow properly, but the pandemic was preventing it.

"On September 5, I let them change into uniforms and wear school bags to pretend it was a proper school year opening ceremony," she said, adding that she often had to devise games and turn on the TV to keep them entertained during the lockdown.

Cam Ly, who lives in Hanoi, has two children, 5 and 7 years old. While no one in the family was infected or placed under quarantine, the children have shown signs of mental distresses like mood swings, hot tempers, insomnia and lack of appetite. They fight each other over the smallest things, Ly said.

Ly's family of five live in a small, 30 sq.m apartment. The growing frustrations among the adults during lockdowns have affected the kids as well, she said.

"The kids have been off school for over three months. Every day, my husband and I have to work online, so we don't have much time to play with them and teach them. So they end up watching TV and using mobile phones for many hours, and all this stresses out the family as a whole."

As of September 8, over 11,800 children had been infected with the novel coronavirus, according to the Ministry of Labor, Invalids and Social Affairs.

Traumatic experiences

"The most worrying fact is that many children have lost their loved ones, which may trigger psychological traumas," said Dang Hoai Nam, head of the Department of Children's Affairs under the labor ministry.

Cao Tien Duc, head of the neurology and psychology division at the 103 Military Hospital, said the Covid-19 pandemic has badly affected children's mental health and this can be a long-lasting impact. Traumas may worsen existing conditions and trigger new ones, he added.

Signs of psychological distress may include depression, anxiety, insomnia and other abnormal behaviors like loss of interest or disobedience, he said. If left untreated, they may negatively affect children's development in the long run, both physically and emotionally, he added.

The pandemic has caused great shifts in society's usual patterns and children are not immune from the mental health impacts they can have. They are forced to change their behavior when schools close and they have to take online classes instead. Parents and teachers also find it more difficult to monitor their education, leading to truancy and prolonged exposure to distractions like video games and the Internet. This affects them physically and mentally, Duc said.

The lack of social interactions that are normal in a setting can trigger boredom and listlessness in children. Not all children will be able to comprehend the change in environment, and they can end up feeling confused and ungrounded, leading to conditions like depression and behavioral disorders.

Children become acutely aware of dangers and threats around them as news about Covid-19 bombard their media. It may inadvertently send a message that human contact could be dangerous, creating and deepening anxieties leading them to feel anxious or even experience sudden outbursts.

Children seeing loved ones getting sick, taken into quarantine and even losing their lives will certainly be a traumatic experience.

"Such pain is truly difficult for children to go through," said Duc.

The pandemic may also negatively affect parents' mental health and, in turn, their children. The loss of income and other challenges presented by Covid-19 may lead to conflicts within a household, affecting children directly or indirectly. Kids may withdraw into their shells and be unwilling to express themselves.

Duc said families should try to forge healthy habits for children during the pandemic, including talking to their loved ones either directly or through the Internet.

Parents should listen to their children more and spend more quality time with them, making sure they get enough attention, proper food and sleep. Parents should also look after themselves better for their children's sake because the latter will pick up cues from their elders.

Therefore, parents and other adults should always keep the well-being of children in mind in their own actions and reactions to the pandemic. This will have a bearing on how children react to the pandemic and its impacts, he added.

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