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Research shows COVID-19 lockdown could scar children

Published:Sunday | June 28, 2020 | 12:24 AMKavarly Arnold - Sunday Gleaner Writer

Professor Maureen Samms-Vaughan.
Professor Maureen Samms-Vaughan.


Child development specialist Professor Maureen Samms-Vaughan is warning that children will need special attention in the coming months as research has shown that the strict measures implemented to stem the spread of the deadly coronavirus could have a lasting negative psychological effect on them.

Jamaica has been under partial lockdown since April, with nightly curfews, quarantines and a St Catherine parishwide lockdown among measures implemented to curtail outbreaks. In addition, a work-from-home order, which has since elapsed, and the suspension of physical classes in March have also disrupted normal routine.

“Right now, parents and children are having a really rough time. The pandemic has created situations that nobody has ever lived through. However, we do have some research from a while back when we had the H1N1 (swine flu) and we do have some early research out of Wuhan, China,” Samms-Vaughan said during the recent Chooselife International webinar series, adding that the pandemic could leave families suffering from post-traumatic stress.


The coronavirus was first detected in Wuhan, China, last December before it made its deadly trek across the globe, infecting 10 million people and killing 500,000.

“Out of Wuhan, it showed that one out of every three children had suffered anxiety or depression after being in lockdown for 30 days. Yes, they were in more serious lockdown than we were, but still ... ,” said the professor of child health, child development and behaviour at The University of the West Indies, Mona. “In the US, after isolated for the H1N1 virus, a third of children had symptoms of post-traumatic stress. This is an unusual, prolonged and deeper response to stress than the typical.”

Samms-Vaughan emphasised that understanding the potential psychological effects post-COVID-19 was important to building the coping mechanism of families.

“With this pandemic, some of the children may have been wetting their beds, some might not have been sleeping, some may be a little more irritable, and some might be more aggressive. Also, parents might become more aggressive, too, because they were not going out to work, some might have lost their jobs, and lots of things have happened and are happening in this situation,” she said.

“It is important for us going forward, those of us who work with families and children to understand what is likely to happen over the next few months. There will be a great demand and need for persons who can identify and respond to the mental-health challenges that we are likely to see in the future, both in our adults and, most important, our children. They will need a lot of hugs and a lot of care,” she added.

Samms-Vaughan is calling on parents to spend time playing with, reading to and talking things through with their children during what is likely the most challenging time in their lives yet.

“Right now, I tell everyone that their (children’s) mental health is more important than the learning (education). Research shows that the greatest concern of Jamaican parents during the pandemic is the education of their children, even more so than the economic problems. Mental and physical health are much more important, so we want them (parents) to spend a lot of time [together] ... ,” Samms-Vaughan said.