Dr Varma Deyalsingh

Psychological depression among students adversely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent closure of schools is real.

And parents and teachers are being urged to pay close attention to the behavioural changes and mood swings of children as this could be an early indicator that something is wrong and professional help is needed.

Repeating earlier calls for more attention to be focused in this area, secretary of the Association of Psychiatrists of T&T Dr Varma Deyalsingh said, “The Ministry of Education needs online depression rating scales added to our online curriculum, so children can be identified and get help.”

Indicating he had appealed for its implementation before, Deyalsingh said, “Parents play a critical role in getting kids to talk about their concerns and fears.”

Deyalsingh’s advice follows the death of a 14-year-old student from Chaguanas who reportedly died by suicide on Friday.

The Form Two student, who attends a school in Central, was last seen around 11 am on January 22 by a female relative.

According to a police report, the student and a relative allegedly argued over his school work before she left the house to purchase food. Upon her return about an hour-and-a-half later, she found him with a bandana wrapped around his neck and tied to a doorknob.

After performing CPR on his unresponsive body, the woman contacted the Emergency Health Services and the student was rushed to the Chaguanas Health Facility where he was pronounced dead.

On Saturday, a grieving relative cried as he said, “These children need counselling.”

Revealing it was a two-parent household where both worked, the man described the only child as “a very quiet and loving person.”

Without revealing any of the family’s personal information, the relative spoke about the impact the lockdown may have had on the child. “The lack of activities definitely did not help,” he added.

Gadsby-Dolly: Counselling and support for family

Extending condolences to the family, Education Minister Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly described the incident as very sad.

She assured that officials from the Student Support Services Division (SSSD) would contact the family to offer counselling and support.

Asked if the SSSD had observed any increase in requests for counselling as a result of adverse effects which may have been caused by the lockdown, Gadsby-Dolly said, “They have not indicated a large spike, but they have noticed some differences in the type of reports coming in.”

Deyalsingh: Increase in childhood depression

Meanwhile, Deyalsingh said the world had been witnessing an increase in childhood depression within recent times.

Claiming children were under pressure and younger and younger people were being affected, he said, “Suicide is the second highest cause of death in teenagers and in the last decade, depression has increased by 18 per cent.”

He added that nearly one of every eight children between the ages of six and 12 has suicidal thoughts. The suicide rate is approximately four times higher among males than females, with females attempting suicide three times as often as males.

Revealing that he had been reaching out to sensitise parents, he advised, “Once you have young children, the reality must be you can lose them to suicide. Our duties as a parent are to clothe, feed, protect and educate them. Now a new duty is to protect them from themselves.”

In the 2007 Global School Health Report for T&T, it was found that 18 per cent of students within the 13-15 year age group who were interviewed, considered attempting suicide and 20 per cent of the female students were more likely to plan how they would attempt suicide.

Deyalsingh warned that COVID-19, “has now multiplied the mental fallout we are witnessing.”

He said, “COVID has seen homes ravaged by poverty and an unemployed parent is a parent on edge. We have seen increases in domestic violence and sexual abuse, and people trying to adjust to the new norm. The uncertainty of when this will end, the joys of teenage relationships and friendships have been stymied.

“Some are asking why study and they lose themselves for hours in a virtual world. Parents are at their wit’s end to get children to leave their online games and must tread carefully as this virtual life has more meaning to certain children.”

Warning signs

Deyalsingh said parents are best positioned to see the warning signs which includes:

* Changes in appetite, sleep, temperament

* Loss of interest in activities once enjoyed

* Preoccupation with death which can manifest in recurring themes of death or self-destruction in artwork or written assignments

* Intense sadness and/or hopelessness

* Social withdrawal from family, friends, sports

* Alcohol and substance abuse

* Gifting or giving away of possessions

* Risky behaviour

* Lack of energy

* Inability to think clearly or concentrate,

* Declining school performance/increased absences from school

* Increased irritability