The COVID-19 pandemic is a generation-defining health crisis that has various far-reaching consequences. One of the most identifiable and disproportionate impacts of the pandemic has been on the mental health of children of different age groups – from pre-school toddlers to young adults.
Mental health on a global scale
According to UNICEF, around 1.6 billion children have been affected globally due to school closures and the multidimensional resultant crises that have mushroomed from the cracks in educational infrastructure, as well as the usual societal and familial interactions.
An important aspect to consider is the vulnerability of children to these unprecedented circumstances, because of their complete dependence on adults to meet different needs. But this crisis has deprived them of this essential support system, as parents, teachers, caregivers, etc., have all been affected by the pandemic and often lack the clarity or knowledge to deal with children’s psychological needs. Lockdowns and physical distancing norms followed during the pandemic have additionally brought upon a related set of limiting circumstances for children and adolescents. Firstly, in the absence of physical classrooms or tactile interactions with other classmates such as playing, sharing or co-working, as well as being outdoors or exploring things, children’s access to necessary stimuli has been reduced. Secondly, the pandemic has given rise to increased levels of stress in household situations, finances, food, amenities and other things, all of which have profound implications on children and teenagers. Lastly, education during the pandemic, with its dependence on remote learning and online classrooms, has worsened accessibility and socio-economic differences between youngsters.
In this discussion, the various issues pertaining to growing up during a pandemic will be explored – what could be the short- and long-term developmental impact of these years of adversities and stress? How could educational organizations and caregivers help children and young adults cope with mental health and psychosocial support? How could an intersectional approach with inputs from various disciplines help mitigate the class divide and address the existing learning crisis? Have we heard the voices of children and young people during the pandemic and let them influence decisions and routines? These questions along with other relevant ones will be examined with openness and curiosity at this interdisciplinary session.