A child’s mental health during and after the COVID-19 pandemic: A Series of Helpful Approaches

A few weeks ago, mayor of Barcelona Ada Colau presented a drastic plea to Spanish health authorities, emphasizing the need for children to leave the confinement of their homes to play outside. She expressed how her own children had oscillated between sadness and anger, and the three-year-old had begun using diapers once again. The stringent lockdown rules in Spain were, in effect, compromising her children’s well-being. However, this issue of a child’s mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic should not come of surprise. Daily routines have been preempted by improvised lesson planning, sudden loss of social contact and much more. With half of all mental illnesses beginning by the age of 14, and the possibility of anxiety and personality disorders sometimes arising around the age of 11, what can mental health care professionals do to help young individuals at risk of mental health deterioration?The following series of approaches aims to mitigate a formidable problem that, as it currently stands, will remain for time to come.

At-risk prevention in children’s mental health

It goes without stating that there exist certain risk factors that increase the likelihood of a worsening of mental health in some children. Those may include a long-term physical illness, a parent with former/current mental health problems, or discrimintation due to race, sexuality or religion. However, in a time when unemployment is skyrocketing and the stock market is volatile, current contextualization may prove pivotal in identifying those young individuals at higher risk of mental health deterioration. Those identified as at-higher-risk could receive earlier treatment and experience less serious repercussions in the long term. An example to illustrate this line of approach may be that of a child whose parents received a notice of job dismissal a week from one another, respectively. How may this child be affected by such events? How will parents possibly handle their feelings of anger or anxiety with the child? What resources can be provided to the child’s parents to help them confront such feelings? Considering questions of this nature can encourage preventive interventions that equip an at-risk child (and parents as well) with the necessary coping strategies, etc.  Indeed, doing otherwise would incur consequences that could affect a child’s development and educational outcomes. Should the current aim be to protect a child’s mental health, actions taken upon earlier identification of those most at risk will have the greatest impact. Mental health and digital technology for children

Take advantage of digital technology for children

Digital technology is not anything new for younger generations. The introduction of smartphones, social networks and other technological tools has transformed how children and young people engage with one another, themselves and their surroundings. The matter-of-interest is how these tools are providing additional support to those whose familiarity with such technology serves now as a plus.Although greater social media use, night-time-specific social media and emotional investment in social media are all associated with poorer sleep, there have been studies that support moderate use of digital technology.  Its benefits include an improvement in children’s mental well-being. Conversely, too much use or no use at all can have a small negative impact. As many children can no longer meet with friends due to social distancing, the time may be now to present children and parents with intervention guidelines concerning responsible use and selection of digital technology. Questions that may help shape such guidance could be as follows:

  1. How much time on-line is too much?
  2. How can an emotional support system be strengthened via online platforms?
  3. What apps are available that could offer meditation practices for children and soothe nerves?

(In fact, the highly popular meditation app Calm just released a series of stories and meditation exercises to relay tranquility to children of different ages) With all of this considered, therapy could be more effective both in sessions and on-line. A child's mental health during and after the COVID-19 pandemic

Anticipate and prepare

The cloud of unpredictability will loom over the remainder of this year until a vaccine appears and infection rates are low. Various scenarios could arise as a result. Nonetheless, children’s mental well-being will continue to be at stake. In the best-case scenario, children are allowed to return to schools. In the worst-case scenario, another wave of infection strikes; governmental health authorities impose restrictive measures once more; and children are confined to their homes.Regardless of either, both will trigger effects that impact children. In an article posted in The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health, there lies the risk that some children with depression become mentally overwhelmed with the difficulties that accompany readjusting to school life. Conversely, should schools be closed again or class size reduced, school life may lose its role as a daily routine, by which children’s mental well-being anchor their emotional and psychological stability. That stated, anticipating and preparingNOW for the advent of such events will be the difference in how children respond mentally to this pandemic saga. Indeed, now more than ever is when current experiences may serve as a lens by which to learn and refine therapy approaches, and lead to more effective treatments for those so young and most at need.

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