- While COVID-19 physically affects adults more than children, mental health distress has increased across all age groups.
- Children ages 5 to 17 sought help for mental health issues at much higher rates in 2020.
- However, a new study found that children with pre-existing mental health problems experienced reduced symptoms when the confinements began.
While the physical effects of COVID-19 have dominated the headlines for the past 13 months, the mental health effects are seen as a simultaneous pandemic that could outlast the virus. Children have generally been resistant to the new coronavirus (although at least one variant is hitting that demographic the most). However, in terms of depression and anxiety, children are on a par with adults.
Emergency hospital visits for mental health issues in the 12-17-year-old demographic have increased 31 percent since the pandemic began. Younger kids have done only slightly better – a 24 percent increase for kids ages 5 to 11. In Germany, one in three children has suffered from anxiety or depression in the last year. In addition to this, children have trouble learning in remote education settings.
However, at least one demographic did better than normal, at least during the initial phase of the locks. According to a new study, published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, high school children from a predominantly Latino community with higher than normal levels of mental distress experienced a reduction in symptoms.
Children with prior mental health problems saw reduced internalization (behaviors that include withdrawal, nervousness, loneliness, unwanted or sadness), externalization (behaviors that include lying, acting irresponsibly, breaking the law, or showing lack of remorse), and other problems.
Those without mental health problems also benefited, at least in terms of internalization and general behavior; there were no changes in service or outsourcing problems.
Researchers began tracking 322 children (average age 12) in January 2020, before the pandemic took hold of the United States. They were studied through May 2020. While this only represents a short time in confinement, lead author Carla Sharp, a professor of psychology at the University of Houston, says the results have important clinical implications.
“First, promoting family functioning during COVID-19 may have helped protect or improve the mental health of young people during the pandemic. In addition, it is important to consider cultural factors, such as familism and collectivism in Latinx communities that can buffer the Early Effects of Mental Health Disasters on COVID-19 Stress “.
Seven-year-old Hamza Haqqani, a second-grader at Al-Huda Academy, uses a computer to participate in an e-learning class with his teacher and classmates while at home on May 1, 2020 in Bartlett. , Illinois.Photo by Scott Olson / Getty Images
Many have lamented what we have lost in the past year. In fact, the problems are many and complex. However, we have also seen reductions in environmental damage (including noise pollution) and greater savings. We also have a greater awareness of how factory farms help viruses to proliferate. And, despite the obvious challenges of making a living with so many closed businesses and industries, this time it has provided some the opportunity to reconnect with their family.
Study co-author Jessica Hernandez Ortiz says this research could inspire new avenues to address mental health problems in children.
“Our findings underscore the importance of the family environment and Latino collectivist values of community connection in promoting child resilience and highlight the possibility that school environments can exacerbate mental health challenges. Removing that context to a less pressured environment has an immediate and positive mental health impact. “
Since the study ended shortly after the pandemic, the novelty of family bonding may have diminished as families became financially strained and found that spending all time together was more exhausting than initially imagined. That said, humans are social animals that require regular contact with family and peers. The latter group may not have been available, but for at least some children, their families filled in the gaps, especially for those who did not thrive in a traditional school setting.
Stay in touch with Derek at Twitter and Facebook. His most recent book is “Hero’s Dose: The Case of Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy “.
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