04:08 GMT20 September 2020
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    Students, parents and teachers in the UK are reporting a widespread decline in their mental health as schools in the country prepare to open on Monday. It follows a report from the Independent Sage group which suggested that the reopening of schools could put the country back on an ever-increasing trajectory of infections.

    Looking at what parents and teachers can do to protect the mental health of school children. Sputnik spoke to Dr Mandie Shean from the Edith Cowen University of Australia.

    Sputnik: What effect has lockdown down had on anxiety amongst children and how has this anxiety affected education?

    Dr Mandie Shean: For most children, they will be quite fine but for those with social anxiety they have had reduced exposure to social interactions and so reduced exposure usually leads to increased anxiety.

    Sputnik: What coping strategies can children use to help overcome anxiety upon returning to school?

    Dr Mandie Shean: It's really easy when children have anxiety to want to keep them safe. They've been in this really safe cocoon of mom, dad, and siblings with limited other social interactions.

    Don't keep them home to feel like you're doing the right thing by them. You need to make sure that they do attend. Teach them that their body may feel elevated, see increased breathing like heart rate elevated, but that's all okay.

    That just means that your body's getting ready to respond and you can try some breathing exercises or just some mindfulness things and calm yourself down. You can also think about that it's actually a good thing. Education is a really beneficial thing turning up and socialising really appears and most of them love you. So there are actually benefits to turning up even though you have fears about it.

    Sputnik: What can teachers and parents do to help protect mental health of children, particularly those returning to school? We don't know what's happened during the lockdown. We don't know just how lockdown and these measures have exacerbated existing mental health conditions. What can teachers and parents do to help protect the mental for children?

    Dr Mandie Shean: There are lots of things that can have happened in our lockdown and first of all just be a really good listening ear. So if you make yourself available as a teacher to see is there anyone who needs to talk about anything.

    You can often see when kids look uncomfortable, they feel they look stressed you need to say anything you need to talk about and then follow the right pathways with those kind of conversations.

    Teachers can also, because context is so important, you want to provide a really good safe context and that means that other kids don't laugh at them when they come up with the wrong answer that you don't sort of smirk or anything that it's really supportive that we can make mistakes in our class and we're all okay.

    But then I also see teachers that are supportive and won't call on an anxious child and that's not actually that helpful. You might want to do things like the anxious child answers in a small group, or the anxious child just answers to you, or they prepare their answer before so you have a) safe environment, really good instruction and b) you kind of prompt and encourage them to come out of themselves a little bit and don't just accept them withdrawing and avoiding altogether.

    Sputnik: In the UK we're talking about a potential mental health crisis because of the Coronavirus particularly when lockdown measures ease. This is both for students but also individuals as well… what policies should the government really be implemented to ensure that students have the right mental health provision for them?

    Dr Mandie Shean: Most children are quite happy to be back and they actually have coped quite well considering but I don't think our situation is the same as the UK either.

    One of the key things is to get people help who need help and so those people that are showing signs of distress should be given funding and support and policy and from what I've seen on the UK websites, as you guys have some amazing things operating at the moment for mental health programmes and online courses and things.

    But people that don't need help, like that are quite fine and coping, they're fine leave them alone because when you interfere with people's mental health and their coping world you tend to cause problems.

    One of the other key things you can do is get out and help other people. When people have poor mental health and they become overly self-focused it tends to increase the problem but if they start to look at what can I do for other people in my society, in my community... it actually improves their mental health. But there does need to be some structures around what context are we putting people in to make sure they feel supported.

    The views and opinions expressed in the article do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.

    mental health, U.K, coronavirus, COVID-19
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