“…approaches tend to be too limited to deal with the complex and widespread mental health problems schools have faced during the pandemic.”
By Sarah D. Sparks
From the very first waves of school closures and lockdowns in 2020, the pandemic significantly damaged children’s mental health in ways teachers are still coping with and researchers are still struggling to understand.
A new analysis of research across 11 countries including the United States in the journal JAMA Pediatrics finds widespread anxiety and depression among those 19 and younger in the earliest days of the pandemic, exacerbated by greater screen time and less physical activity, and coupled with fewer adult supports to ensure children stayed out of dangerous situations.
Researchers studied the effects of school closures from February through July 2020, across 36 studies including nearly 80,000 children and adolescents and more than 18,000 parents in 11 countries. Across the studies:
- Eighteen percent to as much as 60 percent of children and adolescents across the board had strong “distress,” especially symptoms of anxiety and depression, which affected more than 1 in 4 adolescents in some countries.
- Research also showed a rise in screen time and social media use, while some studies found a decline in physical activity—both trends which have been linked to greater risk of depression among children.
- Child protection referrals also dropped, with the decline ranging from 27 percent to nearly 40 percent across countries and studies. The data showed much of this decline came from a lack of school referrals, suggesting that because students were in less day-to-day contact with educators and other adults, signs of abuse or neglect were more likely to go unnoticed.
- However, studies found no significant connection between school closures and suicide among young people, at least in the first months of the pandemic.
Health care clinicians led by Dr. Danielle Dooley reported in a commentary on the JAMA analysis that they are already seeing symptoms related to the disruptions, including disengaging from school, unhealthy weight gain, and delays in immunization and other healthy behaviors…
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