THE MENTAL HEALTH OF CHILDREN & TEENS DURING THE CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC & LOCKDOWN
This year has undoubtedly been one of the hardest most people have ever had to endure and it’s certainly not over yet. It’s been tough for families all trying to work from home, people who live alone not seeing anyone for days on end, the many people who have lost their jobs, the unbelievable NHS staff who are at crisis point, people who have lost loved ones and of course the poor people who have tragically lost their lives.
Whilst lockdown measures were needed and, in truth the Government can’t do right for doing wrong no matter what they do, as a mum of two Young adults and, as a dance teacher who teaches many children from age 2-18 I have a huge concern for the mental health of our children & the effects it is going to have on their futures.
I look back at my teen & young adult years with great fondness of spending time with friends, going to parties, pursuing my dream of being a professional dancer by moving to Theatre college in London followed by travelling the world as a professional dancer.
I of course worry for younger children, their little lives as are far from normal as possible right now but hopefully in a couple of years it will be a distant memory for them and they can get on with their lives. But it’s the teenagers and young adults I worry about deeply.
Mental health issues have increased dramatically since lockdown began in March and stories of young adults taking their own lives due to the effects of lockdown are extremely tragic & worrying. GCSE’s & A levels along with University Degrees pose enough pressure at the best of times but it’s the uncertainty of not knowing what is going on that’s the cause of deep distress for so many, my own 16 year old daughter included who should be taking mocks in January & GCSE’s in the Summer.
To make matters worse, they are being kept away from their friends and missing out on a social life, flirting, dating, learning social skills, getting part time jobs etc and instead have to spend every day with their parents!!.
Don’t get me wrong, we’re a very close family and love spending time together but I’m the first to admit that no 16 year old wants to spend every waking moment with their boring mum & dad!!!!!
But then there’s the kids with homes that are maybe not so happy, for many school & being with friends is an escape from troubles at home or lack of space, privacy, good food etc, the list can go on.
These important years shape their lives and introduce them to adulthood, sadly this is not the introduction to adulthood they had hoped for. For my own children I just pray they are well-adjusted & strong enough individuals to allow this difficult period make them stronger & more determined, safe in the knowledge that they have our full support and we’re proud of them no matter what. My kids both work hard at school & do very well but in these unprecedented times of broken & fragmented education they can only do their very best.
I’m sad though, sad that they’re missing out on flirting with someone they fancy, having fun at parties, going shopping or to the cinema with mates and all the things we took for granted.
What will the impact on their futures be? If lockdowns continue into next year, we’re going to end up with an even bigger problem on our hands with the mental health of these youngsters getting worse as the weeks go on. I know we have to beat this virus and how urgent it is, but I fear there will be an even bigger problem on our hands in years to come.
IF YOU KNOW A YOUNG PERSON WHO SEEMS TO BE STRUGGLING
- Don’t force them but make it clear you’re a good listener and how good it is to share a problem
- Get professional advice from a GP if you are very concerned
- Keep an eye on their social media intake, these platforms can increase anxiety, feelings of not being good enough and lack of self-worth
- Help them think for themselves, encourage them to think through the pros & cons of their behaviour, remind them what they are good at and what you like about them. Help them think critically about what they see & hear.
- Take every situation seriously, something that may not seem a problem to you can be huge to them
- Stay calm but take action – Don’t hesitate to seek help as quickly as possible
- Help them identify people who they can trust such as family, friends, teachers, sports coaches etc & reassure them that its ok to tell someone they trust how they feel
- Encourage them to exercise and explain the benefits that come from fresh air and exercise
- Take them out for a meal or the cinema, A change of scenery and doing something fun can help greatly
- Make it known how loved they are & that you love them unconditionally. Achievements are great but they need to know that doing something wrong or not achieving what they had hoped can always be sorted out by talking, nothing they do can ever be so bad they can’t sort it out with you
THINGS TO LOOK OUT FOR
- Low mood, sadness or irritable behaviour
- Eating issues, either over eating or nor eating enough
- Extreme weight loss or weight gain
- Little or no enjoyment in things that were once fun or interesting to them
- Increased social isolation – teenagers often spend time in their own rooms but keep an eye out if they barely come downstairs
- Disturbed sleep patterns – again, teens often sleep until late in a morning if they can but take note if there are big changes
- Lack of personal care & hygiene such as not showering
- Increased tearfulness
- Unexpected cuts & bruises that may suggest self harming
- Low self esteem & the feeling of them not being clever enough, thin enough, good looking enough
- Major changes in their academic performance
- Stress, anger, mood swings, irritability & weepiness that are more than just teenage mood swings
- Increased headaches or generally feeling unwell
- Being extremely sensitive to criticism, much more than normal
- Friendships that may have broken down