Since the start of the local COVID-19 outbreak, many online courses have become available that teach how to manage emotions, cope with pandemic-related stress, and communicate with parents and children.
However, few of these courses pay any regard to the possibility that the disease prevention measures could result in a psychological crisis for children and young people.
Although such young people have the lowest risk of dying from COVID-19, the pandemic could have a profound effect on their mental health. This could result in an entire generation being subjected to childhood adversity and trauma, requiring attention and action from state and society.
The UN Children’s Fund found that staying at home during the lockdown poses a great risk to children’s mental health and well-being, and the organization therefore urges all countries to increase investment in mental health services for children. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development also said that the COVID-19 crisis has become a mental health crisis for children and young people.
British mental health organization Young Minds said that during the pandemic, the loss of loved ones and other traumatic experiences, worries about interpersonal problems, and anxiety about distance learning have had negative effects and caused long-term harm to 67 percent of young people’s mental health.
Young people like adventures and challenges. The pandemic has created uncertainty about their future, and restricted movement during lockdown has separated them from friends. It has increased academic pressure and isolation.
Furthermore, the extended time at home has led to increased pressure and conflict between family members. Online interaction can give rise to problems such as cyberbullying and Internet addiction. All these are issues that aggravate young people’s psychological distress and make them more prone to loneliness, depression, violence and self-harm.
International analyses on the mental health of children and young people all point out that they experience a higher degree of loneliness, that their symptoms of anxiety and depression during the pandemic are twice as high as in the past, and that the incidence of mental illness is 30 to 80 percent higher than among adults.
Disease prevention measures such as learning from home, reduced time away from home and social distancing have disrupted their sense of order. They lack social contact and the emotional support provided by schools and peers, and they lose the structure of their routines. If infections occur in their household, they might also need to self-isolate, which could make them feel even more lonely and afraid.
Vulnerable families and disadvantaged children could be at higher risk of mental health problems. According to a survey of British children aged 4 to 11 during the lockdowns, their mental health deteriorated and their behavioral problems increased, and the poorer the family, the worse the child’s mental health.
Disadvantaged children and adolescents from low-income or vulnerable families who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, those with physical disabilities, those who are victims of or witness to domestic violence, and those who have mental conditions or substance use disorders lack formal and informal social resources. Their situations are likely to fall off the radar. Therefore, during the pandemic, they are under even higher risk of experiencing loneliness, hunger, lack of privacy, family financial distress, stress, and dropping out from distance learning, falling into a vicious circle of family stress and emotional distress.
Additionally, cuts in resources have made in-person counseling services unavailable, leaving children and adolescents in need with nowhere to seek help.
The pandemic has posed a challenge to children and adolescents’ rights to healthy development, and governments must face this head on. Summer vacation is here, and we are in the midst of an outbreak. Therefore, family and community education about young people’s mental health should be expanded, raising awareness among parents and the public of young people’s mental health.
The public sector and non-profit organizations should also be encouraged to continue face-to-face consultation for young people when required. Hotlines and social media platforms should be set up to address young people’s mental health concerns. Local community mental health centers should carry out intervention programs for children and adolescents, provide tailor-made counseling services, and develop low-threshold psycho-social support.
For the younger generation, the state should promote diversified mental health services, close the gap that exists between young people and adults for accessing these services, and help children and adolescents survive the crisis caused by the pandemic.
Chang Su-hui is president of the Taiwan Care Management Association.
Translated by Lin Lee-kai
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