The webinar on the second day of the Penang International Forum on Mental Health saw two international experts share their views on how to help adolescents cope with the mental health impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown.
Speaking on ‘‘Pandemic and Anxiety: Adapting to the New Normal among Adolescents’ at the WOU main campus today, Prof Dr Cecilia A Essau, from University of Roehampton, London, stated that anxiety is classified as a disorder when the duration and intensity of the symptoms does not correspond to the real danger in a situation. She cited separation anxiety, panic disorder, social phobias (e.g. negatively judged by others) obsessive-compulsive disorder, generalised anxiety from routine life issues, and post-traumatic stress disorder as examples of anxiety in adolescents.
Quoting the National Health and Morbidity Survey 2017 in Malaysia, she said suicidal behavior was highest among Form One students as they transition from primary to secondary school.
She stated that strong predictors of anxiety disorders are lifestyle factors (e.g. lack of sleep, poor diet); being female; cognitive dysfunction; life events; and genetic and environmental factors like family climate, reinforcement of anxious behaviours, excessive protection and controlling parenting, and childhood adversities. “What we do in our daily life is actually part of anxiety reduction, like our cultural practices and values,” Prof Cecilia pointed out.
Her tips for adolescents to cope with the pandemic: “Monitor your normal routine, talk about your feelings with friends/family, take up a new hobby, exercise/stay physically healthy, reduce exposure to news/social media, write about your thoughts and experience, and look at the positive side of things.”
Meanwhile psychologist Dr Fred Toke, the clinical director of Celebrating Life Resource Centre, Singapore, spoke on ‘Balancing Online Learning and Addiction’. He said a study on children and adolescents showed increased Internet addiction, alcohol and smoking during the Covid-19-related crisis in China.“Extended family and professional support should be considered for vulnerable individuals during these unprecedented times,” he said.
He highlighted that the excessive use of mobile phones can lead to Screen Dependency Disorder (SDD) or screen addicted kids, adding that a majority of parents do not supervise the ‘computer time’ of their children. He stressed, “Parents must have clear boundaries and set a right balance at home on the use of devices for learning.”
He offered three ways to break screen addiction – supervision, activities and touch & play.
“If you do not supervise, young children will go to all sorts of sites and games, and later suffer SDD at adolescence stage.” He said parents must set up rules and boundaries while maintaining a relationship with their children, so that their kids grow up healthily. “Rules without relationship lead to rebellion. All relationship, no rules lead to entitlement, while no rules, no relationship lead to a messed-up kid.”
He shared that screen dependency can also be overcome through outdoor and indoor activities, like exercise, monopoly, painting, etc and Touch and Play, such as carrying the baby on the back and going for walks.
The forum on the second day was attended by 128 secondary school counsellors.