- Prolonged closures of school continue to take a toll on children's mental health
- 63% girls think they will not be able to keep up with the next grade's lessons
- 1 in 10 girls said they may not go back to school after reopening for gaps in learning, financial problems at home and marriage
- 4 out of 5 girls reported symptoms of depression
- Although students attending virtual classes see their friends on computer monitors, they cannot communicate with each other there
Tanuja Troyee, a seven-year old girl, developed a great interest in dancing as she had been learning the art since she was four.
Her thoughts and dreams revolved around dancing, but her conception of the world shattered when her dance school was closed after the Covid-19 pandemic hit this year.
Tanuja has forgotten many of the steps due to a lack of practicing. Tanuja, once a very cheerful girl, now often nags her parents for nothing in particular, gets upset, and suddenly cries for no reason.
Tanuja's mother Tripti Adhikari said the girl had been confined at home for nine months. She passes her days by watching cartoons and playing games on mobile. Her Weight has increased by 5kg, and she has become very stubborn. Sending him back to school seems to be difficult now.
"Tanuja used to be among the top five in dance competitions at the district level. Without practice, the girl may not be able to return to dance," added her worried mother.
Another girl Mubashira Jannat Zara, 6, went to school for the first time in January this year. She has now forgotten the alphabet and counting that she had learned at school. She has even forgotten the names of her friends.
Mumtahina Jannat Sarah, 3, the younger sister of Zara, is now the only one who keeps her company in the house. Confined at home, Sarah is much more aggressive now, and gets annoyed very often and throws a tantrum.
Like Tanuja and Zara, children and adolescents have been kept confined at home and their mental stress is worsening due to the closure of educational institutions for nine months since the onset of Covid-19 pandemic.
They do not know when they will be able to return to normal life. Adults can get out of the house if necessary, but children are trapped inside four walls. Experts advise to pay special attention to children in such situations and do everything possible to cheer them up.
A recent study titled "Bangladesh: Covid-19 Knowledge, Attitudes, Practices and Needs – Responses," conducted by the Population Council, expressed concerns that prolonged closures of school continue to take a toll on children's mental health.
The study said most girls (63%) think they will not be able to keep up with the next grade's lessons and 1 in 10 girls say they may not go back to school after reopening for reasons including gaps in learning, financial problems at home, and marriage.
After three rounds of data collection among adolescent girls in districts with high rates of child marriage, the study found that four out of five girls reported symptoms of depression. The rate of girls with symptoms of depression increased gradually over time – from 61% in round one to 74% in the round two to 79% in round three of data collection.
Experts said as the days pass by, kids are lagging behind in education and socialisation, because keeping pace with virtual classrooms is not easy for many students.
Although students attending virtual classes see their friends on laptop or desktop monitors or mobile screens, they cannot communicate with each other there.
Besides, not all schools are able to take classes online, and many parents are not able arrange a facility so that their children can attend classes online. In such cases, children and adolescents are suffering from various mental problems.
Professor Dr Bidhan Ranjan Roy Poddar, director of National Institute of Mental Health, told The Business Standard, "As children are becoming isolated from social life, they are developing various psychological problems. They are now a little upset and suffering from depression. Not going to school or outside for a long time is also affecting their socialisation."
Mental health of children was assessed during the lockdown in Bangladesh via an online survey of 384 parents with children aged between 5 to 15 years.
The study titled "Impact of Covid-19 Pandemic on the Mental Health of Children in Bangladesh: A Cross-Sectional Study," published in July this year, grouped children's depression, anxiety, and sleep disorder scores into severity categories.
According to the survey, mental health problems are below the threshold of severity in 43% children, mild in 30.5%, moderate in 19.3% children, and severe in 7.2%.
Meanwhile, the emotional impact of the Covid-19 quarantine was assessed for children and adolescents from Italy and Spain. Study found that 85.7% of parents reported changes in their children's emotions and behaviors during the quarantine.
The most frequently observed changes were difficulty in concentrating (76.6%), boredom (52%), irritability (39%), restlessness (38.8%), nervousness (38%), loneliness (31.3%), uneasiness (30.4%), and worries (30.1%).
Technology addiction among children has increased a lot due to staying at home for a prolonged period.
School teacher Rokeya Akhter told TBS her two school-going children watch cartoon all day long and fight over playing games on their mobile phones.
"However, teachers do not know whether this confinement has any adverse effect on the mentality of school-going students. The reason is that teachers only ask parents about homeworks," said Rokeya Akhter.
Dr Gopen Kundu, chairman of Department of Child Neurology, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University Hospital, said, "Loneliness is causing behavioral changes in many children and adolescents. They are becoming irritable."
"As the children's mental development is hampered, the hyperactivity of specially abled or autistic children is increasing. Therefore, the emotional aspect of the child should be given special attention," said Dr Kundu.
Since last April, hospital emergency rooms across the United States have seen a sustained surge in visits related to the mental health of school-aged kids, a report revealed in November.
The findings suggest the Covid-19 pandemic is taking a toll on children because of disruptions to their everyday life, anxiety about illness and social isolation, revealed a US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) review of data on hospitals in 47 states.
Lead author of the report Rebecca Leeb, a health scientist at the CDC in Atlanta who is part of its Covid-19 Response Team, said, "We found that from March through October, the proportion of mental health-related emergency department visits increased 24% for children aged between 5 to 11, and 31% among teenagers aged 12 to 17 years, compared to 2019."
Meanwhile regarding the children's mental health situation in our country, Dr Bidhan Ranjan Roy Poddar said, "Due to the socio-economic situation in Bangladesh, parents do not go to hospitals very often for the mental problems of the children. But, recently parents with children suffering from mental problems have been coming to the private chambers of the psychiatrists."
He further said parents need to spend time with children and children need to spend time on studying. And if possible, the children should be taken out from time to time following the hygiene rules