How COVID-19 is Impacting Children and Teens' Mental Health
The current pandemic is bringing unique challenges to each family across the globe. Children and teens are facing their own sets of difficulties, too. Adjusting to virtual school, losing their social time, staying at home during the day around siblings, adjusting to parents being laid off or working from home, overall anxiety surrounding germs and cleanliness, high levels of parental stress, etc., and those are only the beginning. Unfortunately, some children and teens are facing severe financial hardships, homelessness, abuse or neglect, food insecurities, or lack of access to virtual school. Mental health impacts of COVID-19 can differ significantly depending on the individual family unit struggles. Power, Hughes, Cotter, and Cannon explain this difference by saying, "The mental health impacts of any disaster are unevenly distributed. Those with lower social capital and those in vulnerable positions are most at risk" (2020). The authors further assert that 83% of young people with mental health needs believed that COVID-19 had an adverse impact on their mental health, with specific concerns around loss of social contact and structured activities (Power, Hughes, Cotter, & Cannon, 2020). Children and teens with an array of mental health conditions, such as obsessive compulsive disorder, anxiety disorders, or anorexia nervosa specifically noted that the crisis had worsened their pre-existing conditions. According to the authors, one in four young people whom had been accessing mental health supports prior to the pandemic reported that they no longer had access because of the crisis (2020). While research pertaining to the pandemic is still in developing stages, emerging data already displays the significant impact on mental health.
A study conducted by Imran, Zeshan, and Pervaiz found that in the US around 40% of the people with children less than 12 years of age fall into high distress group and are having difficulties in dealing with their work responsibilities and child care, while more than 50% of the parents have reported that financial troubles due to social isolation are affecting their parenting skills (2020). What impacts adults undoubtedly impacts their children. Children are more vulnerable to crisis because they have limited understanding of the event. Mentally, they are unable to escape from the event due to their limited coping strategies (Imran, Zeshan, & Pervaiz, 2020). Children and teens also may not be able to express themselves and communicate their feelings as well as adults can. The two main stressors for children and teens are the closures of schools and separation from friends, and exposure to the mass media coverage of the pandemic (Imran, Zeshan, & Pervaiz, 2020). Unverified media being circulated adds to mental distress. In addition, lack of social engagement removes a coping strategy to express and with mental distress. Emotional turmoil may physically represent in the following symptoms: changes in sleeping patterns, including nightmares or multiple night awakenings, changes in eating patterns, random bouts of crying, getting angry or frustrated more often, social impairment (not wanting to engage with others), or struggling to focus.
With all of this data, what can we do as caregivers? Support youth in any emotion they may be expressing, and teach them appropriate ways to express emotions, such as coloring a picture, punching a pillow, writing a story, or going for a walk. Encourage open communication to create a safe place for self-expression. Limit the amount of outside stress that comes into the home, if possible. Be creative to find ways to make staying at home more fun, like building a fort to camp in for the night. Most importantly, create and keep some type of routine in place. If your child or teen is struggling, therapy is also here to help, both in-person or on a virtual platform. As we keep hearing, this is an unprecedented time for us, but we will all make it through with help from on another.
Imran, N., Zeshan, M., & Pervaiz, Z. (2020). Mental health considerations for children & adolescents in COVID-19 Pandemic. Pakistan Journal of Medical Sciences, 36, S-1-S-6.
Power, E., Hughes, S., Cotter, D., & Cannon, M. (2020). Youth mental health in the time of COVID-19. Irish Journal of Psychological Medicine, 1-5. doi:10.1017/ipm.2020.84