Rarely Acknowledged Mental Health Pandemic Affects Young People

Mar 6 , 2021
By Eden Sahle

A couple of weeks ago, a chilling story of a boy was heard. A high school student took his life, leaving his loved ones in a state of shock. Swamped with other challenges, his parents overlooked the changes in the son, who had seemed bubbly. Around the end, he tried to speak to his parents but was not successful, as they were distracted. By the time they attempted to reach out to him, it was woefully late.

One of the reasons for his untimely passing, his parents suspect, was the adjustments the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has forced on everyone. Indeed, as many can attest, few things have had as lasting an effect on mental health as the changes that have come as a surprise to everyone. All of us are shocked, considering the new way of life and the heavy impacts on the economy that have aggravated uncertainties.

The pandemic has proven itself one of the most persistent crises that brought about economic, political and social fallout. Among the many things the pandemic robbed us of are our routines, the simple things that make daily life more predictable.

In these challenging times, students are among those going through a hard time, though with little attention given to the situation. Every single one of them has had their lives upended to some degree or another.

They are experiencing anxiety and stress born out of social isolation, thrusting long-term effects on their mental health. Their separation from friends, loss of the usual freedom to go out and play, and uncertainty about school programmes and even exam dates have come as a shock. The latter is true especially of senior high school students in Ethiopia who have to sit for national exams. They had little certainty of when it would occur until very recently, when it was announced for March 8, 2021.

Making matters worse is that young people also have the attitude that their predicaments will not be understood. They do have a point. Communication between parents, or guardians, and students is usually strained in conservative societies, mostly focusing on educational circumstances. Giving compassionate emotional support is not offered as strong a recognition when it comes to parenting. At a time of uncertainty, the impact this has on children’s mental health is magnified.

The worst thing parents and schools can do in situations like these is neglect a child’s needs. Every child has unique struggles. They believe no one would understand what they are going through: that no one can be hurt in the specific way they have been; that no adult has walked in their shoes.

Parents, schools and communities should come together to acknowledge that young people have emotional needs that should be supported. Depression and stress-induced immune system weaknesses could have just as devastating an impact on children’s educational outcomes and socioeconomic well-being.

All of us are being informed about the physical effects of COVID-19, steps to be taken to prevent exposure to the virus, and how to seek medical help if it appears. What there is a scarcity of information on is the effects of this pandemic on one's mental health.

The matter requires raising awareness in public, which can be helpful to deal with this calamity. As in adults, the pandemic can take a toll on children’s emotional or mental well-being. We can never be prepared for a disaster that occurs once in a century, but we can remind ourselves and students that life goes on and better days will come.

Young people pick up their emotional cues from their parents. Thus, being calm and coming up with ways to inspire excitement (these could be new family activities) and a sense of certainty is critical. Parents should develop the habit of conversing with their children, making the space open for any questions, as their children may be grappling with confusion.

The Coronavirus may most hurt the elderly when it comes to physical health. But all age groups are in it when it comes to mental and emotional challenges. For young people who are in the process of forming an awareness about the world, this could be devastating. The least we can do is comfort them by sharing positive information, reassuring them about their safety, and encouraging them to unwind with friends and family in a socially-distanced manner.

PUBLISHED ON Mar 06,2021 [ VOL 21 , NO 1088]

Eden Sahle is founder and CEO of Yada Technology Plc. She has studied law with a focus on international economic law. She can be reached at edensah2000@gmail.com.

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