Child and Adolescent Mental Health and the Impact of Covid-19
The mental health effects of the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdowns have become a public health concern especially in looking at the long-term risks and outcomes of our current health crisis. Unfortunately children and adolescents are not being spared these effects and potentially have even greater mental health risks than their adult counterparts. Covid-19 has impacted all of our lives in an exponential way and has stripped the “normal” from almost every child and adolescent.
While no child or adolescent has been immune to the effects of the pandemic, the extent of the impact seems to depend on vulnerability factors such as developmental age, educational status, having special needs, pre-existing mental health condition, being economically underprivileged, and a child being quarantined because of infection or fear of infection.
The impact on young children:
While some may think that younger children do not understand what is happening they are certainly able to recognize the changes in their parents and in their surroundings. Younger children are also more likely to experience physical symptoms of stress related to the pandemic. These physical symptoms can include new onset of enuresis, encopresis, abdominal pain, headaches along with behavioral symptoms such as increased irritability, tantrums, and sleep disturbances.
The impact on school-age children and adolescents:
The ongoing school closure mandates along with familial changes have certainly caused mental health difficulties among school-age children and adolescents. With a diminished structured setting in the school environment along with the halt of extracurricular activities and in-person play time, children and adolescents are certainly experiencing some of the greatest effects in mental health. Many who were previously doing very well in school are now having concentration difficulties as well as anxiety symptoms. Those with a history of depression are also experiencing an increase in symptoms especially in those who have had a significant decrease in peer connections. Furthermore, with there has been an increase in this age groups internet and social media use which has furthered the risks for bullying as well as mental health symptoms.
The impact on children and adolescents with special needs:
Children and adolescents with special needs have encountered increased difficulties with the current pandemic and lockdowns. With school closures has come a decrease in learning support for children and adolescents with special needs. While schools are doing their best to implement resources for children and their families with special needs, there has been a significant difficulty in providing these support systems for them while learning from home. Because of this there has been an increase in behavioral changes, sleep difficulties, and outbursts and a decrease in academic success and developmental improvements among children with special needs. Families of children with special needs are also facing extreme difficulties as there is no longer a separation from the home for school and the support that many of these families were receiving from the school and behavioral therapy agencies are no longer present.
"Covid-19 has impacted all of our lives in an exponential way and has stripped the “normal” from almost every child and adolescent."
So while we know that these impacts are ever present it is imperative that we address the needs of children, adolescents, and their families during this growing mental health crisis due to lockdowns and the pandemic. As Ventura County enters its second Stay-At-Home order, and the unknown of when schools will return completely back to in-person, we wanted to provide coping strategies and ideas for you to support the children and adolescents in your life.
How you can support your child during the pandemic and lockdowns:
Go for walks and hikes as a family
Take breaks from virtual learning
Decrease screen time outside of online learning
Maintain a consistent routine
Encourage good sleep hygiene including getting 8-10 hours of sleep for all children and adolescents, stopping screen time at least 1-2 hours before bed, and encouraging at least 45 minutes to an hour of exercise each day (at least 5 days a week)
Focus on good behavior versus bad behavior in order to encourage positive reinforcement of positive behavior
Reach out to teachers to see where and how support can be offered for school difficulties
Limit exposure to news media
Allow children to express how they are feeling and what their fears are as it relates to the pandemic
Learn breathing, mindfulness, and meditation exercises
Resources for parents, children, and adolescents:
Sesame Street Belly Breath Exercise
American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry Resources for Helping Kids and Parents Cope Amidst Covid-19
CDC Covid-19 Parental Resources Kit
Mental Health Apps for Children, Adolescents, and Adults
Text Crisis Line TEXT HOME to 741741
Ventura County Crisis Team Call 866-998-2243
National Parent Helpline 855-427-2736
Further reading material:
Quaranteenagers: strategies for parenting in close quarters
Now that your College Student is home
Helping Teens Cope with Anxiety about Coronavirus
Support for Kids with ADHD During the Coronavirus Crisis