Developmental psychologist Christine Descartes said the mental-health issues developing in children and adolescents because of e-learning have created a second pandemic.
Descartes was speaking at a virtual panel discussion hosted by UWI in collaboration with the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in recognition of World Science Day, celebrated on November 10.
“Covid19 has brought with it a second pandemic: a pandemic of fear, anxiety and other mental health issues,” she said.
Descartes said confinement and isolation have been known to increase stress levels, and social distancing protocols, while necessary, have their own side effects, much like medication.
She also said psychologists have noticed a “bidirectional” effect, in which mental health issues create a barrier to learning in a virtual environment in some instances, or virtual learning leads to mental-health issues in others.
She added taat being in isolation can also worsen existing mental health issues in students. Children who thrive in a social, face-to-face environment are now experiencing mental-health problems.
However, Descartes said children who are victimised in school or socially excluded in a face-to-face environment, for example, are now thriving in the virtual classroom, as they are no longer distracted by the stress of having to deal with bullies on a daily basis.
But in some cases, she said, “We see students’…focus obstructed by the prevalence of death anxiety.”
Children are concerned not only about their own mortality but that of their loved ones.
She said mental health issues due to lack of social interaction are particularly prevalent in adolescents (students between ten and nineteen).
“Adolescents need to interact a lot more…It is important for their cognitive and social development.”
She sai many situations influence mental-health issues, including restricted space or a shared living area, children with limited resources who are excluded from the online learning experience and the pressures of family life outside of school such as financial strain caused by the number of people who are out of work and at home owing to the economic effects of the pandemic.
She also said many parents no longer have the much-needed support of extended families because high-risk family members, such as grandparents, can no longer make themselves readily available to care for children for fear of contracting the virus.
Zena Ramatali, interim president of the National Parent Teacher Association (NPTA), said the pandemic has revealed many issues for students, including the blue light phenomenon, caused by looking at a computer screen for extended periods of time.
She said this has also led to an additional financial strain on parents who must now buy glasses for their children.
“School is a structured, holistic environment that cannot be replicated in the home for an extended period of time,” she said.