Michigan Association of Health Plans

Pandemic Takes Toll On Children’s Mental Health

Even before the coronavirus hit, mental health problems such as depression and anxiety were on the rise in children ages 6 to 17, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Research shows social isolation can make these symptoms worse.

Currently, there’s little hard data about how the pandemic is affecting children’s mental health, mostly because the outbreak is still unfolding and research takes time. The little that scientists have measured is worrisome.

A national survey conducted in the spring of 3,300 high school students found nearly a third reporting they were unhappy and depressed “much more than usual” in the past month. Almost 51% said they felt a lot more uncertainty about the future as well.

Overseas, in a survey of 1,143 parents measuring the effects of the lockdowns in Italy and Spain, nearly 86% reported changes in their children such as difficulty concentrating and spending more time online and asleep, and less time engaging in physical activity. A study of 2,330 schoolchildren in China found both anxiety and depression rose compared with rates seen in previous investigations.

There’s plenty of anecdotal evidence to corroborate these trends.

“We see high levels of anxiety,” said Saun-Toy Trotter, a psychotherapist at University of California, San Francisco Benioff Children’s Hospital in Oakland, “high levels of depression.”

Her school-based clinic recorded more youth suicide attempts in the first four weeks of the pandemic than it did in the entire previous year, she said.

“They’re giving up hope,” Trotter said. “There’s nowhere to go. There’s nothing to do. There’s nothing to connect with. There’s just deflatedness.”

Trotter advises parents to check in often with their children, listen closely and set routines. She also advises parents to take care of themselves.

“Give yourself as much permission as possible to relax,” she said. “Rest. Reset. Restore.”

Schools and community organizations are also learning how to support students through virtual events, telehealth sessions and socially distanced activities. Trotter cites the working farm at Castlemont High School in Oakland.

“There are students who garden there three days a week, growing kiwis and red peppers,” she said.

She quoted one teenager who was looking on the bright side. ” ‘If it weren’t for COVID, I wouldn’t be sticking my hands in the dirt for the first time,’ ” she said.

This article originally appeared in Michigan Radio, read more and listen here.