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Queries on mental health of kids triple during lockdown

April 24, 2020

Amid the ongoing nationwide lockdown, the phones of the mental health services have not stopped ringing. National helplines have been receiving twice or even thrice the number of calls they used to receive before the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic and the implementation of the lockdown.

Akanksha Pandey, consultant clinical psychologist, Fortis Hospital, Bengaluru who also responds to calls on Fortis Exam Helpline, a 24/7 national helpline on which people can call with queries related to mental health says, “Earlier, we used to get 50 calls a day while now we get 150 to 200 calls a day and over 60 per cent of them pertain to younger population, school students. With the examinations being postponed, children are under stress and are unable to enjoy during this time. They worry that they need to keep revising the subjects as they might forget what they have learned but revising the same over and over makes them bored too. They are unable to concentrate and lack attention. They are frustrated as they are unable to vent it out to their friends as well.”    

7-year-old with anxiety     

Children are suffering from anxiety, depression and panic disorders. In one of the rare cases, says Dr Satish Ramaiah, medical director, People Tree Maarga, a mental health care facility in Yelahanka, Bengaluru, he had received a call about a seven-year-old girl from the city who was anxious and worried that her father would die due to COVID-19. “She had long standing anxiety traits and would panic for every minor thing. She got worried that her father would die due to coronavirus as she was watching news about the virus everywhere. She got moody and was not sleeping well. She would cry thinking about her father’s death. Her parents then sought professional help. I gave her some tips and techniques on how she can overcome it. She’s doing better now. I asked her to challenge her own thinking by writing her thoughts down and finding evidence if these thoughts could be true. When she would think her father is going to die, she would check if her father is sick. When she sees that her father is completely okay and happy working from home, she realises that her thoughts are stupid,” he says adding that instead of fighting her thoughts, she now accepts them and they disappear when she understands that it’s irrational.

Mounting aggression in students with diagnosed disorders

Students who are already suffering from mental health issues are more affected as they are unable to get proper access to their therapists or even medicines. Johnson Thomas, director of Aasra, an NGO in Navi Mumbai that helps in suicide prevention and counselling, says that they have been receiving many calls from the parents of children who have been diagnosed with mental health issues such as bipolar disorder, depression and other psychiatric issues. “They are finding it difficult to deal with them 24/7. The symptoms of these children are getting aggravated. They are throwing tantrums and get violent when they are stuck in the house in this situation. Each parent can then take turns and calm the child down and provide all support they can,” he says.

Manjit Lachwani, deputy director, Lifeline Foundation, an NGO based in Kolkata adds that those who are already on medication are becoming anxious as the medicines that they are taking do not deal with such anxiety issues and they cannot take any other medicines without prescription from psychiatrists. “Doctors are also not accessible at the moment during the lockdown,” she says.

A spokesperson from Samaritans Mumbai, a mental health service says they have been receiving twice the number of calls they used to receive earlier when they were operating for six hours. Now, they offer only three-hour service and they receive over 30 calls a day. The spokesperson on condition of anonymity says, “Many calls are also from parents who are worried about their children’s education. The exams have been postponed and children are getting restless. Many are single children in the household and they are developing claustrophobia staying within the four walls of the house. The college students are worried about the pressure they will have once the colleges reopen. They worry that as the syllabus of the earlier and new semesters will have to be completed, they may not be able to pick up the pace to cope and absorb everything that will be taught. They fear that they won’t be then promoted to the next level.”

College students battling anxiety and loneliness

College students who have applied and secured admission in reputed colleges abroad are now unsure about the status of their admissions. “These were their dreams and aspirations. They worry if their admissions will hold valid when life becomes normal or if they will lose a year. Several college students in India are stuck in different cities such as Hyderabad, Bengaluru, Pune and Kota as they could not leave for their home towns on time and before they could finalise their plans, the flight tickets shot up to Rs 25,000 and trains stopped running. Many are now alone in their rooms or homes as their flatmates have left. We try and help them deal with the loneliness and anxiety by asking them to pursue their creative interests and maybe prepare worksheets and other study materials for fellow students whom they can help without any physical contact. It also gives them a sense of contribution to the society during these troubling times,” adds Lachwani.

Parents find it difficult too

Parents are also having a rough time as they are unable to understand if they are interfering in their children’s lives more than they should as they are all under the same roof throughout the day. “These can irritate the children more. Parents worry about keeping their children engaged and maintaining a balance between responsibilities towards their work, home and kids,” says Pandey.

Helpline numbers

Fortis Exam Helpline – +918376804102 (24/7)

AASRA – 022-27546669 (2 pm to 10 pm on Monday to Friday and 10 am to 10 pm on Saturday and Sunday)

Lifeline Foundation – 033-40447437; 9088030303 (10 am to 6 pm every day)

Samaritans Mumbai – +91 84229 84528 / +91 84229 84529 / +91 84229 84530 (5 pm to 8 pm from Monday to Saturday)

People Tree Maarga – 080-46659999 (10 am to 11 pm every day)

Akhila Damodaran

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