Dr Maxwell Adeyemi
Covid19 came and met the world unprepared. Our country, just like other countries of the world, had to lockdown and ceased or drastically slowed down physical and socioeconomic activities for a while. Jobs were lost, the business closed, religious gathering stopped, and schools were shut down in many parts of the countries for over a year now leaving adolescents at home.
The world has changed drastically since the advent of covid19 as the virus has promoted a sudden change in the way we organise ourselves as social human beings.
While adults are more vulnerable especially those with comorbidities like diabetes, hypertension, obesity and other conditions, children and adolescents are also impacted with severe consequences.
Although adolescents are less vulnerable but not immune to the virus itself, the impact on adolescents of different actions taken because of the virus, have not been fully appreciated and considered by the general population and relevant authorities as the impacts are more far-reaching than we acknowledged.
Academically, many adolescents were cut off from their friends and peers in their school, having to stay at home to do house chores all day with little or no academic activity. Privileged adolescents with access to technological tools such as phones and laptops continued learning via e-learning platforms (google classroom, zoom, television) having to make necessary adjustments.
Underprivileged adolescents with no access to technological tools were encouraged to learn vocational skills and trade.
Many are left idle and unoccupied and invariably got into all sorts of mischief while others were unable to cope with the new learning methodology, which heralded the advent of new forms of frustration. This also made it difficult for slow learning adolescents to catch up with classes.
All across the globe during the lockdown, there are reported sharp increases in the numbers of reported cases of rape, child molestation and sexual violence in many countries and jurisdictions. This is because adolescents and sexual predators were kept within a confined space for a prolonged period of time.
Some of these victims were unable to speak out because their predators are mostly familiar people and not strangers, and the culture of blaming victims instead of predators and the limited access to get help from the outside because of movement restrictions.
Similarly, there has been an increase in the rate of teenage pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STI) in many countries during this pandemic. Despite limited data, some states recorded more teenage pregnancy than usual. This is owing to several factors that include lack of comprehensive sexuality education, idleness and wanting to explore, pornography, lack of access or poor compliance to contraceptives, rape and sexual violence to mention but a few.
The incidence of psychological problems and depression among our youth has also escalated, deviant behaviours, tendency to criminal gangs and “zess” behaviours, as it is popularly referred to locally, are commonplace during the ongoing pandemic.
Many people are justifiably frustrated staying at home, little or no social life for months has led to pent-up pressures waiting to explode.
Furthermore, children and adults are more highly exposed to biopsychosocial stressors generated by the pandemic and containment measures to reduce the spread of the virus. The lock downs, school interruption, disruptions in daily life routines as a result of social isolation and their unseasoned ability to conceive and comprehend the short- and long-term consequences of the pandemic can be distressing.
The heterogeneity and plurality of biopsychosocial stressors occasioned by covid19 leads to unpredictable consequences on the mental health of vulnerable populations of children and adolescents, and the society as a whole. It is therefore important that special attention be paid to the mental health of these vulnerable group of adolescents such that specific programmes are instituted to deal with their issues during and post covid19.
There should be an increased awareness and access of adolescents to basic sexual and reproductive health services such as comprehensive sexuality education, contraception services, psychotherapy and products using telemedicine and other digital tools, while reaching out to them using social and mass media. In the same manner, there should be an increased awareness on rape and child molestation, reporting channels should be made available and easily accessible.
Parents and guardians should see the prolonged school closure as bonding time between them and their children. They should make use of the opportunity to educate their children (both male and female) on sex, life skill and help them make better decisions about their future.
Provisions should be made for pregnant teenagers during their pregnancy, and they should be encouraged to go back to school or be equipped to learn a vocational trade.
It is also vital that people who are facing challenges with psychosocial and mental health issues as a result of this pandemic and related issues should seek professional help in order to be able to handle their situation more effectively.