World Suicide Prevention Day 2020

World Suicide Prevention Day: Impact of Covid-19 on children’s mental health

September 10, 2020
– Sukanya Nandy

Observed on September 10 every year, World Suicide Prevention Day is dedicated to the prevention of suicides worldwide. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) statistics, almost 8,00,000 people die every year by suicide. The Covid-19 pandemic has affected the mental health of many students, especially with the shift to online classes which many children are finding difficult to adapt to and many do not even have access to. 

World Suicide Prevention Day - Nagesh Sood

Nagesh Sood

“It is true that Covid-19 has impacted the mental health of students as the students have been confined to their homes during lockdown and therefore the best way we can address this issue is by remaining connected to them,” says advocate Nagesh Sood, secretary of Kerala-based Befrienders India and Ahmedabad-based SAATH. He adds, “It is sorry that some rural students have committed suicide due to lake of accessibility to online classes. This can be prevented by encouraging the students to share the devices amongst them and also a virtual class room be created wherein through transmission of such classes, may help the student in rural areas to access the education important by the school. Also the villages or panchayat under which the schools are functioning may take the help of smaller group classes periodically by dividing the areas in the villages.”

World Suicide Prevention Day - Dr Kannan Gireesh

Dr Kannan Gireesh

Dr Kannan Gireesh, psychiatrist, psychotherapist and founder, Live Life Education explains, “Lockdown has demarcated the gap between the haves and the have-nots as far as online education goes. People who have good online facilities, good network and schools, which are conducting online classes properly – children of those schools are way ahead from children who do not get that accessibility.”

“Now what triggers a suicide? Suicide is something which has a very strong negative view of the future and a negative intent of a person to live. The person believes that the future is negative, the person does not want to see that future and hence wants to finish themselves. That is where the suicidal intent comes,” says Dr Gireesh.
What parents can do to address the issue
Says Dr Gireesh, “Post-lockdown, parents have gone out of the house and now it is only left to the children to access the online classes. Children are not able to see their friends, they are getting depressed, irritated, frustrated. A kind of moodiness sets in. Many children are coming to me with sleep related illnesses – they are not able to sleep properly and getting multiple spells of waking up in the night.”
Sood advises, “It is important that the people at home remain connected to the student by talking to them and sharing their thoughts. It is also important to help the student to form a routine that may include physical activity, like a few minutes of light intensity physical movement (walking or stretching), which will help them to form a routine and also stay in touch with family and friends.”
“Parents and other family members can involve the children in creative activities and fun games that may help them to come out from isolation and boredom. It is important to give them a routine to follow like getting up and going to bed at similar times everyday; exercise regularly; eat healthy meals at regular times; fixed time for work and rest,” says Sood, adding that it is also crucial to caution students to have less screen time and help them find positive ways to express feelings such as fear and sadness.
Dr Gireesh explains, “Parents can check if a child has a sudden loss of interest from a normal activity, sudden moodiness, loss of appetite, withdrawal behaviour, loss of sleep, temper and tantrums – these are the warning signs. Parents need to spend time with their child, talk to them and see how he/she is going through this issues.” He further advises to have “open conversations” with their child – without any judgments, advises and reasoning all the time. “Parents have this issue that whenever the child comes to them with some problem, they start giving multiple advises. What happens at that point is the child will feel he/she is not heard and will not give any opinions backwards. The need is to give the child an open platform and once the child speaks openly, we will get to know what the child is going through. Accordingly, parents can coax the child to do things in an appropriate fashion. Don’t pressurise the child,” Dr Gireesh says.
What schools and teachers can do to ensure sound mental health of students 
“Teachers can make their sessions more interactive and include mental games during online sessions. Schools can engage students in extracurricular activities such as music sessions, playing instruments and can encourage students to participate in sessions where their individual talent is presented. Teachers can break the routine classes and can encourage students to speak about their feelings and experiences to them. Reducing pressure of syllabus and submissions,” says Sood.
On a similar note, Dr Gireesh says, “School should have a forum where children can have open conversations. Don’t just start your classes directly. Begin by giving 5-6 children chance to talk about how they are feeling. This will help schools to spot out what are the areas they are going through and give them the best possible solution.”
He adds, “Schools can give a helpline number to the children by saying that if the child or their parents have any issues like this, they can call the school counselor/psychologist at any given point of time. The issues are not only related to depression, loneliness and frustration but one must also be cautious about sexual abuse, dysfunctional families, etc.. There are lots of issues that need to considered and look at the environment of the child before making a decision.”
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