For your children's mental health
Tips for back-to-school from a psychiatristSunday, August 22, 2021
BY CANDICE HAUGHTON
AS the new school term approaches and hopeful parents wait to see if students will, in fact, return to face-to-face classes, psychiatrist Dr Maureen Irons-Morgan is reminding them to safeguard their children's mental health.
According to Dr Irons-Morgan, because many children have felt cut off from their peers for an extended period due to the measures implemented to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus — one of which is shifting from face-t0-face classes to distance learning — it is now even more important for parents to protect their children's mental health.
“Parents [have] to realise that children have important mental health needs, and, during the pandemic, children were particularly hard hit… So they have missed out on a lot of the social interactions that normally happen and that are very important to people's development,” she told the Jamaica Observer in a recent interview.
She, therefore, recommended that parents help children to verbalise some of these feelings.
“A lot of times, children might not quickly verbalise; they might act out. So you might see them change behaviour, getting snappy, or doing things that they don't normally do,” she explained.
While encouraging parents to allow their children to safely meet with friends, whenever possible, to mitigate the mental effects of the pandemic, Dr Irons-Morgan urged them to lead by example.
“Also, remember that the children are watching the adults. So, as much as possible, you should model for them the kind of behaviour that you want them to take on while not denying that [some] things are possible, encouraging them with important information and letting them know how they can protect themselves, too. So these are areas that we need to look at and to understand that there's a lot of catching up [to be done],” the psychiatrist told Your Health Your Wealth.
Dr Irons-Morgan advised, too, that should parents notice behavioural changes in their child, they must offer a listening ear to address the problem.
“First thing, listen and try to understand. Don't just say, 'You shouldn't do that and don't do that'. Listen. See if help is needed. Sometimes, as a parent, you might need help and we do have help available for parents — both in the government system as well as privately, there are different child guidance clinics,” she explained.
Acknowledging what has become “a new norm”, Dr Irons-Morgan said, “We are not gonna go back to exactly where we were...”
“We should encourage them (children) and they will learn again how to make friends in person and not just online. I guess we have to be patient with them and talk about it,” she noted.
Adding that more than half of adults with mental health disorders would have started developing them as children and adolescents, Dr Irons-Morgan told Your Health Your Wealth: “We want people to be aware that these things also start early, in some way, and they can get help.”
Sharing that she has seen an increase in mental disorders in children, the psychiatrist said: “I do know there have been, in my own practice, as few more children, under this stressful situation, they have begun to demonstrate behavioural problems of one kind or another; sometimes even psychosis, meaning that they are out of touch with reality. Even children with attention deficit disorder, sometimes it becomes more obvious because of the change in the environment and the need for them to focus on these online programmes.”
Just two weeks ago, a new University of Calgary study published in the medical journal JAMA Pediatrics found that an alarming percentage of children and adolescents living through the novel coronavirus pandemic are experiencing a mental health crisis.
According to information from the university, the findings show that depression and anxiety symptoms have doubled in children and adolescents when compared to pre-pandemic times. The University of Calgary study is a meta-analysis, pooling together data from 29 separate studies from around the world, including 80,879 youth globally.
“Estimates show that one in four youth globally are experiencing clinically elevated depression symptoms while one in five have clinically elevated anxiety symptoms,” Dr Nicole Racine, PhD, a post-doctoral associate, clinical psychologist and lead author of the paper, is quoted as saying.
These symptoms are also compounding over time, the university said.
The University of Calgary study recommends that more mental health support should be put in place to help children and adolescents in this time of need.
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