In mid March of 2020, the world faced the reckoning of the Covid-19 pandemic, as many countries, including the US, went on lockdown.
Globally, mental health problems showed a marked increase among children and adolescents directly related to the Covid outbreak. Where do we stand three years later?
Several studies have raised concerns over the mental health of children, and today, we offer a summary of studies to help explain the crisis.
A systematic review performed via electronic search with data measured against the Critical Appraisal Skills Programme Qualitative Checklist showed that of 35 survey studies including 65,508 participants between the ages of 4 to 19 reported the following mental health issues:
- Anxiety 28%
- Depression 23%
- Loneliness 5%
- Stress 5%
- Fear 5%
- Tension 3%
- Anger 3%
- Fatigue 3%
- Confusion 3%
- Worry 3%
Of the children and adolescents studied, those suffering from a pre-existing psychiatric and/or developmental disorder were more vulnerable due to the effects of the pandemic. Pre-existing conditions included:
- Severe obesity
- Chronic lung disease
- Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder
- Cystic fibrosis
- Obsessive-compulsive disorders
Other risk factors included:
- Psychological quality
- Negative coping strategies
Better outcomes were associated with social and family support and a positive coping style. The review concluded the impact emergency measures had on children and teens “is multifaceted and substantial.” The most common symptoms include:
While evidence does show the pandemic has impacted children and adolescent mental health, there is a need to create specific studies to understand the full impact and recommended treatments.
Sick Kids Hospital
Sick Kids Hospital in Toronto, Canada, compared the impact of emergency measures on mental health status to pre-pandemic mental health in the following areas:
The studies included parent reports for children between the ages of 2–18 based and self-reports for children and adolescents between the ages of 10–18. The study also looked at children with and without pre-existing psychiatric and neurodevelopmental diagnoses to understand the risks for mental health changes.
The majority of children and adolescents participating in the study saw a deterioration in mental health at the beginning of the emergency measures. Those with pre-existing diagnoses experienced similar changes to those without pre-existing psychiatric diagnoses. The most prominent predictor was increased stress related to isolation. The researchers recommended maintaining or adapting children’s activities instead of outright canceling weighing the risk of infection versus mental health impact.
According to CDC analyses, high school students are exposed to mental health threats. Their findings included:
- 37% of high school students reported experiencing poor mental health
- 44% reported they persistently felt sad or hopeless during the year of the study
- 55% reported emotional abuse by a parent or other adult in the home during the pandemic
- 11% experienced physical abuse by a parent or other adult in the home
When combined with already increasing numbers of mental health issues prior to the pandemic, the CDC feels the pandemic has generated a “cry for help.” CDC Acting Principal Deputy Director Debra Houry, M.D., M.P.H. says the pandemic created “traumatic stressors that have the potential to further erode students’ mental wellbeing.”
Covid is less threatening and frightening today than this time last year, and certainly during 2020. Still, mental health risks are prominent, which is why behavioral health care is as important today as ever.
Samaritan Counseling Center
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