The pandemic is taking a toll on the mental health of children
Dr. Saba Merchant is worried that kids might be dealing with more than their parents are aware of during the COVID-19 pandemic.
OTTAWA -- The pandemic has put a lot of strain on families over the past year.
Children are especially having a hard time coping with the isolation and the mental health of children is becoming more of an issue.
Dr. Saba Merchant is a paediatrician and the owner and director of Maple Kidz Clinic just outside of Toronto. She is worried that kids might be dealing with more than their parents are aware of.
"We are now, during the pandemic, coining this world called social malnutrition," says Merchant. "Inability for the children to attend school, daycares, and extra-curricular activities has taken away the structure, the routine to their days. And has also let to social isolation."
Isolation can be hard on kids. Dr. Merchant says parents need to monitor their child's behaviour for any noticeable changes. It's the first warning sign something could be wrong.
"Children behave in a certain way every day. So you’re looking for any shift in your children’s behaviours," says Merchant.
She also thinks a little bit of virtual interaction with friends is important. Especially if it's the only social connections they can do.
"Parents sometimes, our immediate reflex is no more screen time," says Merchant. "But you know what, if that's the platform they are going to use to socialize, it would be good for their well-being. So as parents, please consider those requests."
Daniela Guidoccio is a mother of four. She says it's sometimes hard to keep her kids occupied when there is so little to do.
"They get angrier faster. They get stressed out faster. They get frustrated faster," says Guidoccio. "I know that it’s difficult for them because, weekends, March break we’d be spending with family and friends. And we can’t do that right now."
She too is worried that her kids are having a hard time dealing with the lack of social interaction.
"They constantly ask, can we go visit this one, can we call our friend and have a play date," says Guidoccio. "I just feel like I’m always letting them down by saying no, and explaining why not."
The possibility of contracting COVID-19 is also very stressful for kids in schools.
Dr. Samantha Hill is a cardiac surgeon and the president of the Ontario Medical Association. She says the number one way to protect children is for parents to get vaccinated.
"You can’t protect your child from getting COVID if you don’t protect yourself from getting COVID," says Hill. "No matter which vaccine is available to you, no matter what you’ve heard in the news, I would say as soon you’re eligible, register for a spot. As soon as that spot is open, go get your vaccine. It’s the best way to take care of yourself and your family at this time."
Another issue that the medical community is concerned with is the lack paediatric hospital visits.
In 2020, children aged four to eight, had 39 per cent fewer interactions with doctors compared to 2019.
"If you are seeing early signs of mental health decline or developmental delays in your child. Please make an appointment with your doctor," says Merchant.
Hill adds, "If parents are making that decision to hold off on seeking care for something they otherwise might have, we know that that’s associated with worse long term outcomes. With harder care to deliver."