COVID19 pandemic has done the unthinkable-- it has made our little bundles of joy, active children fall into depression. Reports suggest that so far during the pandemic, depression in children has gone up to 20% more than before. There are cases where even after concentrated efforts of the parents, children are not able to understand the reason for their sadness and have reported continued crying, withdrawal symptoms, anger bursts, crankiness, irritability, longingness and preference for aloneness--all classic symptoms of depression. And when it happens to a child as young as 9 years old, it is time for us to sit up and take note.
Aarush (name changed on request), a 9-year-old client spoke to me, “It started with no school from tomorrow. All my friends including myself were so happy since it meant vacation for us. It was as if God had suddenly decided to be kind to me. But little did I know how much I would hate these holidays soon.
I had been hearing about coronavirus for a long time but never paid much attention to you. The next morning, when I asked mumma if I could go to the park, she said no and strictly asked me to stay indoors because the young and older population were prone to get infected soon. I thought it would be over soon and I’d meet my friends in the evening for our cricket game. But it has been three months now and I still haven’t met anyone outside of my house.
I felt I was on a very long holiday but with no friends or fun. Everyone at home was scared of the spread of the virus. My father, being a chemist had no option but to go to his store every day. Even if it was for limited hours it scared me, I was anxious for my father’s as well as our family’s safety. What if something happens to us. What if mumma or papa fall sick, then who will take care of me? What if they die of COVID, will I have to go and live with Anita Mausi? I started to cry and praying to God to keep the virus away from my house.
Everyone was watching news on every channel and that made me believe even harder that someone will surely die. I prayed to God, that “God since I can’t live without my mumma, please if she dies, make me die also.” I everyday hung around Mumma just to be sure she is fine. Sometime at night, I used to sneak in her room to see her face, touch her and then come back relieved that she was still there and the virus hadn’t taken her away.
Earlier we used to eat out sometimes--when I had done well in a school test, or when the cook aunty hadn’t turned up; going out was so much fun; getting dressed, ordering pasta in white sauce...but now mumma only tries and makes new dishes every other day; she works too hard; I didn’t like it. Why did Sarita didi who did the cleaning stop coming? Poor mumma, she is working so hard.
I could see how my parents were trying to make me feel better during COVID, they’d scheduled their day just to not let me be alone at any moment. We had ‘together tasks and activities’ planned for the whole day where we used to exercise during the morning, cook in the afternoon, rest and have hot chocolate in the evening and watch a movie or my favourite show in the night. But I don’t know why I just continued to feel sad, scared and all alone. It is almost as if everything I did, these feelings just pop-up out of nowhere. I am tired of being scared, clueless, anxious, lonely and even after trying so much, I am not able to feel the way I did before all this happened and I have no idea why.
One day I had a nightmare where I saw the monster virus sneak in and take mumma and papa both away. I wet my bed in fear and cried so much. From that day onwards now I sleep with mumma so that I am less scared.
But I didn’t like it anymore...I didn’t want to do anything...eat, take a bath, get ready...why should I do it when there is no fun, no where to go, no one to meet. I feel like crying all the time and just lie on the bed. I kept getting bad dreams of mumma dying of the virus and I having to live alone. I hated myself for such dreams but I couldn't help it, if mumma dies, I am going to die for sure.
I did it one day...just lay on the bed...till mumma got me to talk to you. I like you aunty. I also like it when you talk to me like an adult and not a baby. You never ‘shush’ me up but always listen to me.
I like your star reward system also...see I finished my glass of milk today before talking to you. I already have 3 stars, 2 more to go and I will ask mumma to order that architect set for me online,” said Aarush happily.
Aarush had been showing classical symptoms of depression. Given his age, I had to counsel his parents more than counsel him. I suggested his parents to talk to him more often, get closer to him, fill the gaps for him which have been made because of no friends--play with him, giggle with him, have fun--take him downstairs with all precautions, keep him creatively occupied, and to assure him that though coronavirus is out there, we as a family are taking all precautions to safeguard ourselves.
Aarush is responding well to therapy. Hopefully I can help more children out there.