Mental health experts who have been in the trenches providing psychological support to children, adolescents, and other cohorts during the novel coronavirus pandemic say the crisis has not only pushed some youth towards deviant behaviour as a coping mechanism, but also created new stressors which showed up in the generation gap in the society.
Dr Judith Leiba, director, child and adolescent mental health in the Ministry of Health and Wellness, says children, especially teenagers, became desperately isolated and depressed, while some turned to gambling.
“I think the pandemic affected, inordinately, our teenagers, especially the ones who were transitioning from primary to secondary school — they went on Zoom so it wasn’t the same, so that sense of isolation was greater for them, also the ones who unfortunately could not come on [online] consistently, they felt a bit stigmatised because sometimes people would point out that they weren’t there,” she said.
Dr Leiba and a diverse panel of experts in public health were speaking at this week’s Jamaica Observer Monday Exchange ahead of the health ministry’s launch of Health Workers Appreciation Month, which is being observed in July.
Dr Leiba noted that many who were involved in sporting and church activities suddenly found themselves outside of those activities, in addition to being out of school for two years.
“At the end, they don’t want to go to church again, they start to smoke ganja, they don’t want to go school again, they want to work.”
She said the increased and intense use of digital devices also presented a problem, with children engaging on inappropriate platforms and consuming harmful material and information.
“A lot of our children used screen time not just for learning but for other things, so a lot of them got into other stuff that they ought not to have gotten into. Internet gambling was a problem for some people and some of the sites lured them in — they would win money initially and then get hooked,” she said, noting that some parents reported that their children had fallen into debt on these gambling platforms and access funds from their parents’ accounts to feed the newly developed habit.
“That was scary for a lot of others, and you also had children who were doing indiscreet things,” she said, pointing to situations where the counselling helpline had to assist young girls who found themselves the subject of revenge porn after transmitting inappropriate images to their male counterparts.
Associate clinical psychologist Keisha Bowla-Hinds said the issues surrounding generational gaps became more complex for some children who were in the care of their elderly grandparents before the pandemic, due to the death of parents and other circumstances.
“The grandparents were managing okay, but when the pandemic hit, they could not cope very well because of the change from face-to-face interaction to everything being online. So the generation gap created large complexities between adolescents and children and their parents and elderly caregiver — they didn’t know how to negotiate a WhatsApp group where teachers were posting assignments and sharing information related to school. So some of these things came up in the counselling space as new stressors that they were contending with as a family,” she explained.
On Monday, the ministry will officially launch celebratory activities for Healthcare Workers Appreciation Month at Terra Nova All-Suite hotel in St Andrew to recognise the workers for their contribution to public health during the pandemic.