An unprecedented study on the mental health of 3-11 year olds was launched by Public Health France on Monday, two years after the health crisis began. Around 30,000 children across France will be interviewed to get information on the well-being and mental health of young children. Children whose suffering often dies or goes unnoticed.
Captivity, adults we see only in the upper part of the face, new hygiene in school and often extra exposure to the screen. How have children been doing mentally since the onset of the Covid-19 health crisis? This is the question that Public Health France wants to answer, which launched a large national survey on the mental health of children aged 3 to 11 on Monday, May 2.
In a press release, Public Health France indicated that data on the well-being of young children was “missing today or still very fragmented”. The purpose of the survey will be to draw a “brief description of the well-being of children” and to “measure and describe the different levels of well-being and the difficulties encountered and to identify the situation, determinants and effects on children. Quality of life.”
The survey, conducted on a sample of 30,000 children until the school holidays in June, was unprecedented, and attracted about 600 schools to participate. Until now, the subject has been of more interest to teenagers and young adults. However, children also suffer from crises, constraints, fears and uncertainties.
Because in contrast to adolescents, who often tend to express their pain more loudly, the emotional pain of children occurs silently. “They’re sponges, but they don’t want to make waves,” explains Mary-Claude Bossier, a child psychiatrist.
This survey is therefore excellent news, he assures us, citing multiple warnings sent by deputies and senators by professionals in the sector to take into account the consequences of the health crisis on children’s mental health and the additional burden on children. Pediatric services.
Back to school to know ‘no one is dead’
Very often, no crying, no convulsions, but sleep disorders, eating disorders, anxiety disorders… an discomfort that does not sleep, but is silent.
The child psychiatrist explained, “Children were most affected by adult anxiety.” In fact, in the face of the introduction of new rules (physical distance, in particular), children adapt and do not become overly anxious until adults explain them enough.
“At the end of the first captivity, I remember a child who came home from school in Olympic form, talking to his mother because she never talked about school, in quantity and ‘qualitatively’,” says Mary-Claude Bosier, referring to one of her young patients. “He was happy, because he just saw that no one was dead.”
Excessive exposure of the screen
Blocked for several weeks with their parents, the children absorbed the anxiety caused by the health situation, some of which were broadcast on television screens throughout the day at home. “They’ve seen pictures of coffins, heard the death toll, and heard all the information revolving around viruses, ignorance, speculation …”, the development of a child psychiatrist. “The kids swallowed it all, and didn’t talk too much, because they never wanted to raise their parents’ concerns.”
Screens to watch the news, screens to follow the school … and parents to quietly spend their leisure time telecommuting: always the screen. During captivity, children were exposed to the screen, and this inevitably affected their mental health, says Mary-Claude Bossier, also a member of the CoSE Collectif Surexposition Ecrans. “The use of screens has multiplied in an irrational way with a very significant impact on the development of children,” he explains, noting that relationships with the world and others are formed from the age of 2 years.
In 2019, a study by Elfhe Kohart (of which Public Health France is a partner) already established that prolonged screen use by children aged 2-3 years was associated with primary education risk, such as sleep, behavioral and language.
Children, “a population that is not taken care of”
Anxiety in adults, anxiety-stimulating images, isolation, screen … Counseling offices have seen the arrival of many sick children since 2020. For others, it manifests itself in delays in schooling, but whatever the form, doctors describe an unprecedented situation of deep pain.
“The health crisis has affected the mental health of the youngest and the need for strong information-based care and prevention measures. For this, it is important to have an index,” explained Genevieve Chen, France’s director general of public health, in a press release. Being able to resist them. Then take steps to encourage health-promoting behaviors before entering adolescence. “
To fully evaluate as much as possible the factors that may affect children’s mental health, the study used questionnaires to question both children and their parents and teachers.
After the participation agreement, parents or adults living with the child will be asked to answer a 30-minute question on the Internet or telephone.
From CP (and up to CM2 class), investigators approved by the Ipsos Institute, responsible for operational implementation, will come to class for a one-and-a-half hour session to support children and their teachers. Students will need to answer a self-adaptive questionnaire adapted to their age on a tablet. For kindergarten students, parents and teachers will be interviewed.
Preliminary results for mainland France are expected by the end of 2022 and a roll-out is planned for 2023 in foreign divisions and territories.
If this survey – called the ENAB (National Survey on the Welfare of Children) – is well received by professionals, Marie-Claude Bossier still cannot hide a certain bitterness. “In France, we want statistics and want to duplicate accounting studies, but we can ensure that the quality of testimony of childhood professionals is better heard and evaluated,” he lamented. “Childhood is a population that is not cared for in France.”