Keeping children in isolation can further perpetuate existing mental health risks or prompt suicide in worst-case scenarios, experts say.
While Singapore children and adolescents are gradually returning to schools, not the same is seen in other countries where lockdowns remain. Children are facing delays in returning back to school, in addition to strict social distancing measures that almost prevents physical interaction with their friends.
Effects of Social Isolation on Mental Health
According to Prof Ellen Townsend, professor of psychology at the University of Nottingham, there was evidence of “growing feelings of loneliness and social isolation” especially among teenagers. And in countries such as the United Kingdom where there are school closures during the pandemic, it could perpetuate these existing mental health problems, she said to the BBC.
Young individuals reportedly felt isolated even as they stay connected with their peers through social media.
In light of damaging long-term consequences due to the lack of face to face interaction in young people, experts are calling for their release from lockdown and minimising of social distancing measures.
“Allow them to play together and continue their education by returning to preschool, school, college and university, and enjoy extra-curricular activities including sport and music as normally, and as soon, as possible,” the letter wrote.
Effects of social isolation on mental health can be profound, especially in the duration. Photo: iStock
This is in consideration of children being “at low risk from COVID-19.”
Impact of Loneliness on Mental Health Could Last for at Least 9 Years
Townsend said COVID-19 has not claimed the lives of young people as much as death from suicide has.
“Suicide is already the leading cause of death in 5- to 19-year-olds in England and the second leading cause of death in young people globally; thankfully, COVID-19 will never claim this many young lives.”
The consequences these young individuals face extends to even beyond the lockdown in the future.
Research published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (1 June 2020) states that young people who are lonely might be as much as three times more likely to develop depression in the future.
It is said that the impact of loneliness on mental health could last for at least 9 years.
“We need to recognise the sacrifice that children have already made for others”
Apart from the impact of loneliness, the study has also found that the duration of loneliness appears to have the biggest impact on depression rates in young people.
“This means that returning to some degree of normality as soon as possible is of course important. However, how this process is managed matters when it comes to shaping young people’s feelings and experiences about this period,” said Dr Maria Loades, a clinical psychologist from the Department of Psychology at the University of Bath who led the work.
In the letter, experts seek to include young people in making decisions involving them: “we need to recognise the sacrifice that children have already made for others and we should not ask for that sacrifice to continue.”
To help ease young people in transition to adulthood, the letter highlights the importance of inculcating “mental resilience” and “educational preparedness” in the transition to adulthood.
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