Ottawa pediatrician calls extended school closures a ‘crisis’

OTTAWA – A pediatrician in Ottawa is urging the Ontario government to reopen schools across the province for personal learning, calling the situation “a mental health, physical health and academic crisis.”

Dr. Jane Liddle said that with schools closed to Ontario’s two million students since mid-April, the problems facing young people are escalating.

“We’ve had a 200 percent increase in the mental health crisis, be it suicide attempts, eating disorders, substance abuse, I mean, these all have physical consequences [as well], ”Liddle told Newstalk 580 CFRA on Sunday.

“We need kids back to school yesterday,” she said.

“We have seen a significant increase in obesity and associated increased health problems. We are also seeing the opposite, in connection with the mental health crisis, a serious escalation of eating disorders. “

Liddle said children without school are losing precious development in an impossible environment, with isolation and loss of social engagement being the biggest causes of mental health problems. All this on top of an increase in screen time.

“The loss of the things that drive children to be happy; their sport, their relationship … they have lost all their extracurricular activities. “

She said conflict in families is also escalating, as parents try their best to do their own work while being a parent and teacher at the same time, with that stress at home being an added problem for children.

“The conflict in homes right now is just ungodly.”

Liddle said for those between grade 1 and 3, it all affects the ‘foundation years’ and it means the foundations are not being built properly.

“These kids have lost their foundations, these houses will be built and they will crumble and they are now crumbling,” she said.

‘People say,’ Children are resilient. ‘I’m sorry, that is long gone. These kids are suffering and we have to get them back to school. “

Liddle is part of the Ottawa Community Pediatricians Network, a group of 70 local doctors who banded together at the start of the pandemic to share practical information, and also joined The Canadian Pediatric Society this week by writing an open letter. sign in which she urges the province to give priority to reopening. schools.

The letter, addressed to Prime Minister Doug Ford and other provincial officials, said, “School closures and the resulting social isolation of the health and wellbeing of children and youth are impossible to ignore.”

“Getting students from Ontario back into class for the remainder of the school year and learning before the summer should be a priority now.”

Dr. David Williams, Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, said this week that the province was in a dire situation, trying to balance the reopening and COVID-19 risks with the mental health of college students.

He said he is pushing for school boards to become plans to reopen, but has not provided a timeline for when that might happen. The COVID-19 Science Advisory Table has said that schools can reopen in a “manageable way.”

Dr. Sumon Chakrabarti, an infectious disease physician at Mississauga Hospital, told CFRA on Saturday that he saw no reason why schools could not reopen, but said he understood the need for some caution coming from the third wave.

“In most situations, schools aren’t drivers for transmission, but when we were at the peak and moving to the height of the third wave, when you have that much community transmission, schools can contribute a little bit, so it made sense to shut them down. ‘he said.

With Ontario “well on the downward slope,” it makes sense to open schools, he said, even if it’s only for five or six weeks.

“It would be huge … I really think the government should reopen schools for the rest of the year.”

Liddle said that even a few weeks in the classroom would be hugely beneficial to children in the current environment.

“Children need hope; they are absolutely hopeless right now. They are completely unmotivated, and you know that these psychological issues that we are talking about will have lifelong consequences. “

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