REACHING OUT: Erlibyrds Preschool and Early Learning Centre co-owners Luisa Duffy and Pierina Paron-Berry with students Niamh, Harper, Winter, William and Eli.

Picture: Scott Powick.
REACHING OUT: Erlibyrds Preschool and Early Learning Centre co-owners Luisa Duffy and Pierina Paron-Berry with students Niamh, Harper, Winter, William and Eli. Picture: Scott Powick.

Expert’s warning for parents during coronavirus pandemic

THERE will be a tsunami of mental health issues in youths due to the coronavirus pandemic and it will last for years.

That is the message from a mental health expert from Southern Cross University.

Professor John Hurley said families who were bunkering down during the coronavirus crisis were disrupting a natural instinct in youths.

He said during adolescence, children had a need to connect with their friends and form relationships but ­social distancing restrictions made it impossible.

Prof Hurley said the restrictions also impacted children's education, aspirations and their careers, causing anxiety and possible mood disorders.

He said children's brains continued to develop into their early 20s, which made it hard for them to regulate emotions and make decisions.

"Their brains are still developing and the last part of the brain to mature is our decision-making capacity and ability to think about desired outcomes before making a decision," Prof Hurley said.

"When life's journey is disrupted and then relaunched, it increases anxiety disorders and depression and substance abuse while people are locked away.

"Then people almost become used to the social distancing. We will see self-esteem issues and those with underlining mental health issues will emerge.

"We're also going to have a group of people who have onset psychosis and major mood disorders … because people in this age group have the additional stress of coping with Covid-19."

He said mental health services were already "chronically" underfunded and would have added pressure when a "tsunami" of mental health issues emerged due to the impact of the pandemic.

Prof Hurley said parents could support their children through this period by increasing their level of empathy.

"There's no gain in being overemotional," he said.

"Parents need to regulate their own emotions and have a very clear outcome of what they want from their children.

"In simple terms, bite your tongue and keep your eyes on the prize."

Prof Hurley urged parents to keep an eye on their children for early warning signs of mood and sleep disturbances and a loss of joy.

Preschool teacher Luisa Duffy said it was important families weren't forgotten during the coronavirus crisis.

Ms Duffy said young children were scared after their everyday routine had completely changed and families went into hibernation.

She said it would be a slow process for families to adjust when the crisis was over and there would be lingering mental health issues.

"Children are scared - they're hearing the word death a lot," Ms Duffy said.

"Suddenly they're at kindy, then they're not. They can't see their grandparents or their friends and developmentally they're struggling to understand.

"It's very layered. We need to peel back the layers and realise the depth of it all.

"It's easy to say close this, shut down this, don't send them (children) to school but there will be a side effect to this in three, four, five months or whenever this ends."

Ms Duffy and business partner ­Pierina Paron-Berry are reaching out to families not just to continue ­educating their students but to offer a connection.

"We have come up with new ideas on how to link people who are hibernating through digital platforms and online learning," Ms Duffy said.

"But this is now reaching out to families at home and offering a connection.

"It's important families aren't forgotten about. Early learning is about belonging and there's a real sense of that being lost if we don't think outside the box to help families feel that sense of belonging."