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High Life North asks what effect a long term lockdown could be having on us, and on our children.

Since 20th March, we in the North East have been living under severe restrictions. Jo Dunbar looks at what the impact could be.

By Jo Dunbar

Whether it’s been a local lockdown, tier 3 restrictions or a nationwide lockdown, since March this year people in this region have been living under a question mark with limited freedom and much less social interaction than we are used to. While living like this may now feel normal to many of us, there’s no doubt that learning to exist in this way for almost a year has affected us all mentally.

Coupled with worry over our children, our finances, older relatives and our own health, it’s no surprise that more of us have been reporting mental health issues. We spoke to chartered clinical psychologist Abigael San who agrees that long-term restrictions have prompted her clinics to fill up with more patients asking for her expertise. ‘In my clinics, I’m seeing so many issues that are unrelated to the virus itself, but as a result of its effects.’

Luckily, Abigael believes our life experience as adults is helping us to cope with the uncertainty. ‘Adults have previous experience to fall back on to know things will go back to normal. With time, we have learned to adapt since March.’

And while we are now presented with more positive news – in the form of a vaccine – with hopefully better days on the horizon, Abigael recommends we keep in check how we respond to developments. ‘2020 has been a big lesson in how little we can control things. There is a lot of uncertainty, but the one thing you can control is how you react and what gets your attention. Engage with the news less, no more than twice a day, and switch off alerts.’

For young children to have words such as ‘bubble’, ‘hand sanitiser’ and ‘coronavirus’ in their vocabulary, it’s both heart-breaking and a reflection of how much their worlds have been altered since national lockdown began in March. Much has been reported on how resilient children have proved themselves to be, but it stands to reason that many months of restrictions and social distancing will have implications.

According to Abigael, there is greater evidence that kids are feeling anxious. ‘More children are presenting with anxiety as a result of what is happening, whether that’s a child at school contracting COVID-19 or worrying about the pandemic. If a child is ordinarily socially anxious, then lockdown presents a lack of challenge, not being going able to go out and try different coping methods. This means they aren’t progressing – coronavirus is putting a halt to that, like it’s put a halt to everything.’

And it comes as no surprise that with their friends and hobbies restricted by the pandemic, feeling bored is a factor for children, too. ‘I’m seeing children with boredom, wanting to play more and more Fortnite for example.’

When it comes to younger kids, Abigael believes their development could have been affected. ‘It’s especially difficult for younger children when they are kept away from their peers, there is no benchmark for development or social stimulation which is important for building friendships. At secondary school, children are wearing masks in communal areas – that makes it hard to read others and if you aren’t neuro-typical then it’s even more difficult.’ But Abigael warns us not to fret too much. ‘It’s easy to mistake nervous tics and attribute them to COVID-19, but the pandemic affects all ages in all sorts of ways.’