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The pandemic has had a major impact on children and adolescents. According to research, an alarming percentage of children and adolescents are experiencing a global mental crisis due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The University of Calgary study, which included 80,879 young individuals and was published in JAMA Paediatrics, is a meta-analysis that gathers data from 29 various international studies. The most recent research indicates that compared to the pre-pandemic era, depression, and anxiety symptoms in children and adolescents have increased.
“Estimates show that one in four youth globally are experiencing clinically elevated depression symptoms while one in five have clinically elevated anxiety symptoms,” says Dr. Nicole Racine, PhD, a postdoctoral associate, clinical psychologist, and lead author of the paper. Alarmingly, these symptoms are compounding over time.
Older adolescents and girls are more impacted
The UCalgary study, which includes research from 16 studies in East Asia, 4 in Europe, 6 in North America, 2 in Central and South America, and 1 in the Middle East, also reveals that older adolescents and girls are more likely than boys to experience depression and anxiety at high levels.
“We know from other studies that rates of depression and anxiety in youth tend to ebb and flow with restrictions,” says Dr. Sheri Madigan, PhD, co-author of the paper, a UCalgary clinical psychologist and Canada Research Chair in Determinants of Child Development. “When more restrictions are imposed, rates go up. Being socially isolated, kept away from their friends, their school routines and social interactions has proven to be really hard on kids.”
She adds: “When COVID-19 started, most people thought it would be difficult at the outset but that kids would be better over time, as they adjusted and returned to school. But when the pandemic persisted, youth missed a lot of milestones in their lives. It went on for well over a year and for young people that’s a really substantial period of their lives.”
Adolescents missed their family members and peers, their critical social support
For many adolescents that loss was especially impactful. “Once you enter adolescence you begin differentiating from your family members and your peers can actually become your most important source of social support,” says Racine. “That support was greatly reduced, and in some cases absent altogether, during the pandemic.”
Older teens have missed out on significant life events such as graduations, sporting events, and various coming-of-age activities. “These kids didn’t imagine that when they graduated, they’d never get to say goodbye to their school, their teachers, or their friends, and now they’re moving on to something new, with zero closure,” says Racine. “There’s a grieving process associated with that.”
As more of the population becomes vaccinated and an end to the pandemic seems near, the question arises: how will our children and adolescents fare? Will they bounce back from this traumatic time, or will the mental health impacts linger?
The elevated mental health symptoms in youth are rising
“At this point, we don’t know the answer to that,” says Racine. “I think for most children who have experienced elevated mental health symptoms, some of that will resolve. But there will be a group of children for whom that isn’t the case. For them, this pandemic may have been a catalyst, setting them off on a trajectory that could be challenging. And there’s another group of children who had mental health difficulties pre-pandemic. They might really struggle long term.”
For now, though, the elevated mental health symptoms in youth are rising and that’s a problem that must not be underestimated, Madigan warns. “We’re continuing to see compounding effects of the pandemic,” she says. “It’s disjointing for kids because they can’t predict what their environment is going to look like, and we know when their world lacks predictability and controllability, their mental suffers.”
According to the study, more mental health resources should be implemented to assist kids and teenagers who are struggling.
“Long before the pandemic we had a youth mental health system that was stretched and lacking resources,” says Racine. “A potential doubling of mental health difficulties will overwhelm that system without a significant increase in resources.”
Madigan agrees, adding: “If we want to mitigate the sustained mental health effects of COVID-19, because of the chronic stressors our youth experienced, we have to prioritize recovery planning now. Not when the pandemic is over, but immediately. Because kids are in crisis right now.”
Materials provided by the University of Calgary. Original written by Heath McCoy. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.
Nicole Racine, Brae Anne McArthur, Jessica E. Cooke, Rachel Eirich, Jenney Zhu, Sheri Madigan. Global Prevalence of Depressive and Anxiety Symptoms in Children and Adolescents During COVID-19. JAMA Pediatrics, 2021; DOI: 10.1001/jamapediatrics.2021.2482
University of Calgary. “Youth, the pandemic and a global mental health crisis.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 9 August 2021. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2021/08/210809112840.htm>.
Help is here:
Name of the Organisation: Vandrevala Foundation
Vandrevala Foundation is a non-profit that partners with organizations to help communities thrive by providing education and healthcare. Vandrevala Foundation launched a mental health helpline in India in 2009 to offer free psychological counselling and crisis mediation to anyone who is experiencing distress due to depression, trauma, mood disorders, chronic illness, and relationship conflict.
Contact: Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Telephone: +91 9999 666 555