The effect of Covid-19 and lockdowns on the mental health of Thailand as a nation cannot be questioned or ignored, but who is paying attention to the nation's children and teenagers?
Parents from low-income households facing the loss of their 300 baht daily minimum wage, or the destruction of their businesses, the growth of Covid-19 clusters in cramped living conditions that threaten their lives or put them at risk of being separated from their children, and the breakdown of family relationships and support networks, yes these parents -- how do they even have the means to address the needs of their children right now?
Unicef and its partners released a survey in Thailand in April 2020 in which more than seven in 10 children and young people said the pandemic was affecting their mental health, leading to heightened stress, worry and anxiety. The survey highlighted what worries them the most: the uncertainty of their family's financial status.
Childline Foundation Thailand Call Center's recent conversation with a Thai teenager via social media captures the desperation of children who witness their family's condition plummeting: "Last night my father said that we should kill ourselves. We have received no support and the bank is calling every day. We've had to sell all the possessions in our house, we're at the bottom of the sea -- there's nothing left."
Will suicide rates among under 20s be on the rise in the 2020s? On Monday, a 19-year-old teenager, Anuchit Imjai, dived into the Nan river after his family had asked him to quarantine after returning from Covid-riddled Bangkok to his hometown in Phichit province. Rescuers managed to recover his body a day after and he was confirmed dead, leaving his 40-year-old mother, Udomsri, standing on the side of the river, at a loss over what to do.
A preliminary police investigation linked Anuchit's death with mental stress caused by Covid quarantine. The teenager had argued with his mother and grandmother after being forced to stay at home for 14 days when he wanted to visit his friends.
Since the onset of online schooling, parents who are juggling heightened financial pressures or demanding job requirements in the face of the Covid outbreak understandably have no choice but to put their child behind a screen.
A survey prepared by the Thai Health Promotion Foundation in April revealed that children as young as three years old are now using the internet for their online schooling and other purposes.
Another survey among 945 primary and secondary students found that some students aged between 6-9 years are spending six to eight hours a day online, amounting to (if you don't include weekends) at least 30-40 hours a week online!
What toll will this have on these kids in the future? The World Health Organization recommends children limit their screen time to 16 hours per week.
The effects of staring at a screen, consuming removed-from-reality social media content, violent movies and online games, as well as monotonous learning are far-reaching for a child and will unfortunately be there for the long-term.
There are many medical reports linking children who have spent too much time on-line with mental effects such as mood swings, myopia, attention deficit disorder, impulsive behaviour, depression, disassociation and violence.
How will our children look like in the future, after Covid-19? This is not just a question for Thailand, but the world.
Any struggle with mental health is already a challenge for an individual. Add Covid-19 and pandemic measures into the equation and it's a slippery slope. Now think of that burden, and place it on the shoulders of a child. How does the child cope with it?
Even worse, there are reports about a rise of child abuse at home as parents reach the limit of their patience. And what is the situation of homeless kids who have to live on streets? Have these poor kids received Covid-test or vaccines?
There are several issues to address when it comes to child welfare. So 30 billion baht is being poured into the Ministry of Public Health next fiscal year, and most of that will be spent tackling this pandemic.
So much money from emergency loan decrees -- 1 trillion baht last year with an additional 500 billion baht now being added to the plate -- is being used to help businesses, but has the government even factored in children?
In all these government "strategies", we have seen few plans to enable young people to cope with Covid-19 and its repercussions, except a push to get schools and universities re-opened. Finally, society will reap what it sows. Because a society that doesn't take care of its children is a society creating problems for the future.