COVID-19 and its impact on school going children in Moreh

    10-Jun-2021
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Dr Suantak Demkhosei Vaiphei
Moreh is a small town located on the Indo-Myanmar border in the State of Manipur. Moreh is the commercial capital of Manipur and a centre for the Indo-Myanmar trade relationship. As per the 2011 census, Moreh had a population of 16,847. Males were 8,670 while 8,177 were females. Moreh had an average literacy rate of 71.47%, lower than the State average of 76.94% : male literacy was around 79.52%, and female literacy was 62.88%.
The outbreak of Covid-19 makes the year 2020 more than just a year. It was a year that altered the way we look at life and live it. The Covid-19 outbreak caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus-2 (SARS-CoV-2) gave rise to several socio-economic crises and profound psychological distress among the school-going children in particular and the youth of Moreh town as a whole. School children are increasingly visible as a vulnerable population, suffering from higher levels of anxiety, stress, depression, and substance abuse compared to the general population. The pandemic has shown a particular spotlight on drug addiction among school children.
The closure of schools and minimal social isolation have led the school children to an impoverished situation, hugely affecting their academic career. Added to their academic damage, drug addiction is seen as an emerging crisis affecting their overall growth. The schools were not able to provide any support or assessment due to the unavailability of online/offline school counsellors and the teachers were not fully trained to handle such situations.
On the other hand, some parents have no time to engage with their kids. They are preoccupied with their business and some parents need to find a way for their livelihood. In most cases, mental health issues are an unheard topic of discussion among school parents and teachers. During this time of the pandemic, it hugely affected the student’s motivation and concentration, which becomes the crucial factors for students to succeed in their higher academic career. The prevalence of this epidemic accentuates new stress among the school’s children like fear, worry, frustration, boredom, stigma, sudden and radical lifestyle changes.
These psychological issues are not considered as symptoms to be treated by the schools and the parents. This could be the underlying reason why a maximum of school-going children get involved in drugs and other substance abuses in this tiny town of Moreh. Some of the latest research findings have indicated that this pandemic will have a long-term adverse consequence on children, especially among the school going ones.
The nature and extent of the impact on school children depend on many  factors such as current educational status, having special needs, and pre-existing mental health condition. Since all the existing psychological challenges are different, every child has different needs to meet, which we mostly fail to understand. To cater to these psychological challenges, it is difficult for parents to handle as they lack professional expertise and they mostly rely on school/teacher and therapists to help them out.
However, looking at the current state of schools in Moren town, there are no psychologists for the psychological assessment and most of the school teachers are not trained in this regard. The need of the hour is to plan strategies to enhance children’s access to mental health services during and after the current crisis. It requires a direct and collaborative network of various stakeholders which the schools and parents need to understand.
It is to be noted that an inadequate effort to recognize and address the children’s mental health challenges, especially during this pandemic will have long-term consequences on their health and education. The current state of increasing drug addiction among the school/higher secondary children could be reduced if we acknowledge and assess the ongoing psychological crisis before it is too late.
(The author is an Assistant Prof. Department of Psychology, Christ University, Bangalore)