The Pandemic’s Impact on the Mental Health of Children and Youth
There is no health without mental health. Emotional and psychological welfare are essential for a person’s well-being. According to UN Sustainable Development Goal 3: Good Health and Well-Being, it is crucial to ensure healthy lives by promoting mental well-being for all ages.
The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in a vast array of healthcare disruptions that has irrefutably affected youth mental health.
Dr. Joanna Henderson, a senior scientist at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), is currently leading a longitudinal study on youth experiences with COVID-19 and public health restrictions across Ontario. Dr. Henderson says social isolation is a key issue.
“This has also been a very isolating time for children,” says Lynn Ryan MacKenzie, CEO of Toronto’s Child Development Institute (CDI). Children are unable to spend time with their peers and other adults apart from immediate guardians, leading to a decrease in youth mental health and well-being, she says.
The widespread and sudden shift from in-person interactions to virtual meetings has impacted youth.
“For some young people, that’s not a comfortable mode,” Henderson says, adding that COVID-19 has disrupted all aspects of social and professional lives, ranging from getting a driver’s license to employment. Some youth have even stepped away from academic plans.
According to MacKenzie, children are experiencing a great deal of stress due to the pandemic. They are expressing anxieties about becoming ill, concerns about the well-being of their friends and family, and fears about the duration of the pandemic—all likely intensified by ongoing media coverage on the pandemic, MacKenzie adds.
MacKenzie says that children’s mental health warning signs differ from those of adults. Some common ones include:
Extreme outbursts or mood swings
Worrying to the extent that they suffer from headaches or stomach aches
Lack of sleep impacting daily activities
Avoiding activities they usually enjoy
Appearing unusually quiet, sad or preoccupied
Big changes in appetite
She advises parents to reach out to their local children’s mental health organizations or physicians for more information or assistance.
There are many causes for mental health. While individual vulnerabilities exist, such as genetic predisposition, Henderson says social determinants are still critical to consider, especially during a global pandemic.
“We really need to ensure that youth in all communities across the province have ready access to high-quality care that’s tailored specifically for youth,” Henderson says.
Henderson strongly advises community leaders across all youth-serving agencies, including recreation, housing and cultural organizations, to connect with families to discuss how child and youth mental health needs are currently being met in their local communities.