Pediatrician Saba Merchant, who practices in the northern Ontario city of Vaughan, north of Toronto, has used the term "social malnutrition" to describe the impact of isolation on children and adolescents during the pandemic. She describes how parents can unwittingly transmit their own COVID fears to their children through their daily interactions with them. One of the effects our young people have been experiencing, what Dr. Merchant refers to as "social malnutrition," on students' mental health was discussed in a CBC article published on June 20th, 2022 (Pug, 2022).
Students across the country have been dealing with ongoing disruptions, ranging from cancelled school clubs and events to changing cohorts and online learning. Healthcare professionals and students have observed the adverse effects of social isolation on mental health. As a result of the measures put in place to reduce transmission during the COVID-19 pandemic, some students have expressed how difficult it has been to socialize and feel "free" again due to the fear of doing something wrong or making someone uncomfortable by being close to them.
Although some clients who have displayed social anxiety-related behaviors have fared well during this pandemic, the impact of not having face-to-face interaction is being felt by our youth. Most have similar experiences to adults who have been "forced" to work remotely due to the pandemic. In my practice, I've seen an increase in the number of clients of both sexes who have symptoms of insecurity, restlessness, lower overall energy level, anxiety, less motivation just getting up to do online school and homework, and eating disorders. I'm not sure if this is a coincidence, but it appears to be the case.
As Dr. Merchant points out, mental health experts and parents should be on the lookout for some of the following warning indicators that may indicate that something is not working well with them:
Change in behavior
Trouble sleeping and
Quick weight gains or losses.
When it comes to their mental health, young people's voices must be heard. During the pandemic, I have spoken with several of my clients about how important it is for them, as parents, to find that "time off" that their kids have from electronic devices (video games, movies, and social media) so that they could be more open to conversations in which their children can express their emotions without feeling judged. Other psychotherapists have emphasized the need to acknowledge and respect our children's feelings. I agree. Validating their feelings about what they see, hear, and feel around them is the first step in teaching them to self-regulate.
Pug, J. (2022, June 20). The impact of “social malnutrition” on students’ mental health and how to address it | CBC News. CBC; www.cbc.ca.