New Delhi: The disruption in food security programmes such as the Mid-day meals scheme amid the COVID-19 pandemic may have been one of the reasons that impacted nutrition among children and adolescents, which in turn, could have made them more vulnerable to mental health issues, Dr Yasmin Ali Haque, India representative, United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), said while speaking to UNI on Tuesday.
“The lack of ample nutrition due to various reasons in the whole pandemic have exacerbated the overall wellbeing as well as impacted the mental health of the children.”
“Children who suffer from malnutrition do not reach their full potential of development. Closure of schools which lead to restrictions on playing and social interaction have deeply affected the children’s well being and their mental health,” Haque said.
“We anticipate the lack of access to food such as disruption in midday meal programme could have been one of the reasons making some children more vulnerable to nutrition deficit,” she stated.
The conversation was happening on the occasion of the launch of UNICEF’s annual publication State of The World’s Children. The 2021 report is centred around the mental health and well being of children and adolescents.
Speaking further, Haque said that children were already battling mental health issues that have been exacerbated due to the COVID-19 led pandemic.
“Half of the mental issues start by age of 14. Even before COVID, children were carrying the burden of mental health issues. South Asia had the highest number of adolescents with mental health issues. Reports suggest that 50 million children and adolescents are affected by mental health issues in India alone,” she said.
UNICEF India chief said that the toughest part to address the mental health issues is the social stigma attached to them and efforts at the community level will be required so that the sufferers come forward and express their issues confidently.
“The first step towards addressing the issue is the acknowledgement of the problem. Any behaviour that is not usually must be checked, without being judgemental and prescriptive. It is imperative to provide the children with a space to open up. People are not willing to listen to them. Just listen to them and understand their fears. Tell them it’s okay to feel anxious and tensed,” she added.
Haque also said that everyone in society has a part to play in the proper redressal of the prevailing mental health issues among children.
“Everyone in the society from parents to the government will have to play a part in it. We need to de-mistify that only specialists can deal with the mental health issues,” she said.
Haque also suggested that special training should be imparted to the teachers since they can bridge the gap of confidence between children and parents.
“It is very important that teachers are sensitised and trained to note the early warning signs of the mental health disorders. Pandemic has provided an opportunity where teachers have gotten close to their students and have often shared the trauma that children have faced. This should be turned into training which will help in more reporting,” she said.