COVID-19 Impact on Children and Adolescents

Illustrated by Lucy Chen

Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, one of the most shared experiences has been one of isolation, quarantine, and social distancing. But how much of this experience can we truly say is shared? During an era that requires skillsets of rapid adaptation and resilience, the mental health consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic have presented a monumental challenge to current and future health systems. In particular, children are challenged by these trying times in novel ways. Evidence from previous outbreaks and environmental transitions have shown to present barriers to healthy development in youth, and there is no doubt that the current pandemic will present a myriad of new obstacles for years to come [3].

 Navigating online and hybrid learning scenarios has required increased online presence, accelerating a dangerous curve of media addiction, stress and loneliness. Andrew Archer, a therapist at Minnesota Mental Health Services, says, “[The children] need to be climbing on stuff, they need to be tackling each other, they need to be in physical contact because they’re learning social norms. They’re learning boundaries with interacting with one another” [4]. Instead, abrupt withdrawal from school, social life and outdoor activities, in addition to increases in domestic violence and food insecurity, have created new stressors translating to higher incidences of post-traumatic stress, depression and anxiety, as per a systematic review of 63 studies featuring over 51,000 participants [5]. Furthermore, longitudinal studies have shown that psychosocial stressors in youth, such as those which have arisen over the past year, create a hyperinflammatory response that impair neurodevelopmental processes and lead to cognitive and mood disturbances [3]. As these new stressors see no resolution for at least the coming months, neither will their resulting effects which contribute to increased anxiety, changes in diets, fear or even failing to scale problems [2]. 

Current frameworks to support mental health needs are already in much need of repair; however, given the exacerbated effects of the pandemic, educational institutions must prioritize providing this type of support to returning students. It is crucial that schools have access to highly-skilled mental health professionals and create pathways for students to access these resources, a task which schools, communities and governments have long been grappling with how to approach [6]. Additionally, increasing screening for at-risk individuals as well as educating staff and teachers will prove to be useful measures for understanding how to best support students [1]. After all, despite its many physical, social and mental consequences, the pandemic has made clear how students, and communities, depend on schools as cornerstones of emotional well-being.  

Edited by: Haleigh Pine
Illustrated by: Lucy Chen

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