Youth mental health problems have doubled during Covid-19


For most children and adolescents, the past year has been a shadow of a typical childhood.

Instead, there have been strict stay-at-home orders, repeated opening and closures of schools, social distancing from peers and other supports, limited or no access to sport and extracurricular activities, and many missed milestones such as graduation. During this time, the family unit has been in crisis as well, with financial instability as well as increased psychological stress for caregivers. Independently and collectively, these events can catalyze mental health difficulties in children and youth.

At the beginning of the pandemic, children and adolescents were the lowest-risk group with regards to medical concerns and complications from Covid-19. Now, over a year into the pandemic, they have emerged as the invisible casualties of this global crisis.

Auto biographical comics are changing our understanding of illness. Hyperbole and Half, for example, honestly discusses living with depression.

Sounding the alarm

Many clinicians and child-health practitioners are calling attention to a youth mental health crisis. Recently, national children’s charity Children First Canada declared a #codePINK, a term commonly used in health-care settings to indicate a pediatric emergency.

Many pediatric hospitals have reported a 100-percent increase in admissions for mental health problems, upwards of a 200-percent increase in admissions for substance use and suicide attempts, and report that 70 per cent of children and youth have indicated that the pandemic has affected their mental health.

Our child psychology research team sought to better understand the current state of children’s mental health globally, one year into the pandemic. A research summary published in JAMA Pediatrics shows that globally, one in four young people is experiencing clinically elevated depressive symptoms, while one in five is experiencing clinically elevated anxiety symptoms.

These rates are all the more alarming when compared to pre-pandemic estimates, which were closer to one in 10 youth having clinically elevated anxiety and depression. This indicates that youth mental health difficulties have likely doubled during Covid-19.

Sustained long term?

When we looked deeper into which youth were struggling the most globally, we found that—consistent with pre-pandemic data—females and older youth were at greater risk for both depression and anxiety difficulties.

We also found that mental health difficulties were more prevalent as the pandemic persisted. This suggests that as the length of the pandemic continued, along with public health safety measures such as school closures and social distancing, clinically significant anxiety and depression symptoms also increased. This indicates that children and youth globally are struggling with mental health difficulties, and their symptoms are worsening as the pandemic continues. The Conversation

Images courtesy of Elina Krima from Pexels and Allie Brosh/Hyperbold and a Half via The Conversation

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