A feared high level of anxiety and depression symptoms suffered by people with intellectual disabilities during the pandemic has been confirmed and outlined in a Bahrain study … especially amongst young children.
According to research conducted by Kuwaiti scholar Hassan Abdul Faraj at the Arabian Gulf University (AGU), this section of the community became particularly anxious and bored by the restrictions put in place to help prevent Covid-19 spreading.
The study examined the psychological symptoms and responses to changes during the pandemic of 172 subjects from Bahrain and Kuwait with intellectual disability – those who had limited ability to learn at an expected level and able to function in daily life.
“My goal was to highlight the differences in common psychological symptoms of anxiety and depression before and during the pandemic,” Mr Faraj explained.
“I also engaged in finding out how different were these on the variables of sex, severity of disability and age in people with intellectual disabilities.”
The study has recommended enhanced awareness efforts by concerned entities to help families understand the negative impact of the pandemic on people with intellectual disabilities.
The research sample included children from six and above to adults aged up to 30 with mild to moderate intellectual disabilities who were enrolled in schools, institutes and special education centres. Mr Faraj used a scale he created to assess their symptoms of anxiety and depression.
Anxiety is defined by the American Psychological Association as a feeling of tension, worried thoughts and physical changes such as increased blood pressure. Depression, on the other hand, is a common and serious medical illness that has a negative impact on a person’s feelings, thought processes and actions.
The results not only showed an increased level of anxiety and symptoms of depression in those with intellectual disabilities during the pandemic compared to pre-pandemic, but also age-related differences.
“In the age group from six years to under 11 years there was a higher display of symptoms of anxiety and depression than among those aged between 20 to 30 years,” said Mr Faraj.
“The results found no differences in anxiety symptoms attributable to the sex of the person with disabilities or the severity of the disability, while differences in depressive symptoms were found between those with mild and moderate disabilities in favour of those with moderate disabilities.”
The report highlighted how bored they became having to sit in a chair in class for a longer period than usual or at home studying using Internet tools such as Zoom. Many complained that their parents were not taking enough time to talk to them, perhaps because many had to juggle family life with working from home for the first time.
Mr Faraj highlighted that the discussion on his research observed that the psychological symptoms worsened and increased during the pandemic due to many of the measures taken to curb the spread of the infection.
“This included quarantine, which caused the vast majority of people to have health, social and psychological problems,” he explained.
“The closure resulted in isolation, social distancing and being at home for long periods, as a result of which people’s activities changed, jobs and family visits stopped … all of which led to consequent psychological pressures.
“It exceeded the normal level for the mentally handicapped, as their mental health became worse than before, and they suffered from a higher level of depression and anxiety compared to their non-disabled peers.”
In conclusion, Mr Faraj underlined that the repercussions of the pandemic have a trail of effects on people with intellectual disabilities and lessons can be learned and put into practice should similar circumstances, heaven forbid, happen again.
“It is important that parents and caregivers are aware of this,” he said. “They must be trained to deal with their wards accordingly by periodically calling on teachers and specialists to help train them (people with intellectual disabilities) to carry out multiple activities inside the home besides the social activities.”
The study was supervised by AGU Learning Difficulties and Developmental Disabilities Department Special Education Professor Dr Mariam Issa Al Shirawi, and Assistant Professor Dr Wad Hussein Dagestani.