COVID and Children's Mental Health
About 99% of children globally are facing COVID-19 pandemic related movement restrictions that are affecting their mental health. Children have to contend with social isolation that inhibits their brain development that especially affects young children. Additionally, the uncertainty and parental angst during the pandemic are aggravating the mental health issues affecting children.
Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on children's mental health issues
- Children cannot engage all the members of their families, friends, school communities, and worship places during the COVID-19 pandemic due to physical and social distancing measures. These measures have denied children with support and community that are critical towards maintaining good mental health.
- The containment measures introduced during the pandemic have interfered with the care of mental health care for children. Services such as school-based mental health care were not accessible while parents avoided taking their children to areas to health centers that were still providing mental health services due to fear of contracting COVID-19. In both instances, there was a break in the continuity of care of mental health patients.
- Social distancing interfered with the occurrence of social events that would either not take place or now had no social participation. Grieving with family is an example is a social event that could not take place due to COVID-19 pandemic protocols. The lack of these social connections especially in significant life events accelerated the mental health crisis affecting children.
- At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, jobs were lost and businesses closed down negatively impacting the household income of families. Children are stressed and impacted by their guardians’ ability to pay their bills and provide for their families. It also exposes children to violence, abuse, and neglect that culminate into mental health issues.
- From March 2020 to October 2020 during the implementation of shelter in place orders across the United States, the number of emergency department visits by children decreased by 43% in comparison with the same period in 2019;. The overall decrease in mental health cases among children during the COVID-19 epidemic reflects the negative impact of the containment measures on the accessibility of mental health services. Largely, children had been receiving mental health assistance at schools, clinical, and community agencies that now faced closures during the COVID-19 crisis.
- From March 2020 to October 2020, the proportion of mental health-related emergency department visits increased by 24% in children of ages 5 to 11 and 31% among children aged 12 to 17 years. The increase in the proportion of mental health cases among children is indicative of elevated stress levels because of the pandemic and its mitigation measures. The elevated stress levels emanate from illness anxiety, social isolation, and lack of community engagement.
- Unfortunately, the majority of emergency departments are ill-equipped to provide mental health services to children. The level of service delivery in these health departments has decreased due to the lack of staff and financial capacity due to the shift of resources to departments serving COVID-19 patients.
Solutions to mental health issues
- The expansion of mental health telehealth solutions will enhance the access to these services by children. Given the wide accessibility of the internet using smartphones, tablets, laptops, or home computers, children can access mental health services on apps or websites.
- Parents need to ensure that their children remain socially connected with family and friends during the pandemic to ensure that they do not become socially isolated. It can also help them overcome their mental health challenges through sharing and support.
- Children should be taught COVID-19 preventive measures that will reduce their health worries. It is also important for children to helped to be healthy that includes providing continuity of care of mental health care.
- Guardians and mental health practitioners should address the fear, stress, and behavior changes facing children during this COVID-19 pandemic. Early addressing these fears and stressors will limit the occurrence of mental health problems.