children are “a population not taken care of in France”

An unprecedented study on mental health in 3-11-year-olds was launched on Monday by Public Health France, two years after the start of the health crisis. Around 30,000 children will be interviewed across France to get data on young children’s well-being and mental health. Toddlers whose suffering is often killed or goes unnoticed.

Detention, adults we only see the tip of the face of, new health rules in school and often overexposure to screens. How are the children mentally since the start of the Covid-19 health crisis? That is the question that Public Health France wants to answer, which on Monday 2 May launched a major national study on mental health in children aged 3 to 11 years.

Data on young children’s well-being “are lacking today or are still very fragmented”, Public Health France states in a press release. The purpose of the study will be to prepare “an overview of children’s well-being” and “to measure and describe the different dimensions of well-being and the difficulties that have arisen, as well as to identify the circumstances, determinants and influences of children’s well-being.

The survey, which was conducted on a sample of 30,000 children until the school holidays in June, is unprecedented and around 600 schools have been drawn to participate. Until now, the topic has been more interesting for young people and young adults. However, the little ones have also suffered during the crisis, confinement, fear and insecurity.

Because unlike young people, who often tend to express their distress more loudly, children’s mental illness occurs in silence. “They are fungi, but they do not want to make waves,” explains Marie-Claude Bossière, a child psychiatrist.

This study is therefore excellent news, she assures us, referring to the many warnings that professionals in the sector send to deputies and senators, so that the consequences of the health crisis for children’s mental health and overload of children are taken into account. pediatric services.

Returns to school to ‘find out no one is dead’

Very often, no crying, no seizures, but sleep disorders, eating disorders, anxiety disorders … A malaise that does not sleep but is silent.

“What affected the children the most was the adults’ concern,” explains the child psychiatrist. Faced with the introduction of new rules (especially physical distancing), children adapt as long as adults explain them enough and are not themselves overly anxious.

“At the end of the first imprisonment, I remember a child who had come home from school in Olympic form and talked to his mother when he had never talked about school, both in quantity and ‘quality,'” Marie-Claude recalls Bossière, referring to one of her young patients. “He was happy, for he had simply seen that no one was dead.”

Overexposure of screens

The children, who were locked inside for several weeks with their parents, absorbed the anxiety created by the health situation, which was broadcast in some homes all day long through television screens. “They saw pictures of coffins, heard the count of the number of dead and all the information that was about the virus, ignorance, assumptions …”, the child psychiatrist develops. “The kids swallowed it all and did not talk too much because they would never increase their parents’ worries.”

Screens to watch the news, screens to follow the school … And to quietly record your free time while the parents commute remotely: always screens. During imprisonment, children were overexposed to screens, and this inevitably had an impact on their mental health, says Marie-Claude Bossière, also a member of the CoSE collective (Collectif Surexposition Ecrans). “The use of screens has multiplied in an unreasonable way with very significant effects on children’s development”, she explains and clarifies that the relationship with the world and with others is built from the age of two.

In 2019, a study by the Elfe cohort (of which Public Health France is a partner) already established that long-term use of screens in children aged 2-3 years was associated with an increased risk of sleep, behavioral and early learning such as language.

Children, “a population that is not taken care of”

Worry among adults, anxious images, isolation, screens … From 2020, consulting offices have experienced an influx of many children in a state of illness. For others, it manifests itself in learning delays in school, but regardless of the form, doctors describe an unprecedented situation of deep distress.

“The health crisis has affected the mental health of young people and has shown the need for action for care and prevention based on robust data. For this, it is important to have indicators,” explains Geneviève Chêne, Director General of Public Health France, in the press release. “First to understand their potential difficulties and to be able to prevent them as early as possible. Then to take action to encourage health-promoting behaviors before entering adolescence.”

In order to assess as exhaustively as possible the factors that may affect children’s mental health, the survey will use questionnaires to ask questions to both the children, their parents and the teachers.

By agreement of participation, the parents or adults living with the child must answer a questionnaire lasting 30 minutes, on the Internet or by telephone.

From the CP (and up to the CM2 class), investigators authorized by the Ipsos Institute, responsible for the operational implementation, will come to the classes in a session of approximately one and a half hours to support the children and their teachers. Students must answer a self-questionnaire adapted to their age on a tablet. For kindergarten students, parents and teachers will be interviewed.

The first results for the French mainland are expected by the end of 2022, and a rollout is planned for 2023 in the overseas departments and regions.

If this study – called the Enabee (National Child Welfare Survey) – is well received by professionals, Marie-Claude Bossière can still not hide some bitterness. “In France, we tend to want numbers and to multiply accounting studies, but we could have ensured that the qualitative dimension of testimonies from early childhood professionals was better listened to and appreciated,” she laments. “Childhood is a population that is not taken care of in France”.

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