Dr Richard Schweizer Blog - January 2022

Children’s Mental Health During and After COVID

It has been observed that one of the positive sides of the COVID pandemic has been increased public and political focus on mental health.

To some extent, this has come about as a result of effective advocacy by people and organisations in the mental health sector. But, more importantly, this increased focus has reflected poorer states of mental health in many communities across the country during the pandemic. In particular, extended lockdowns seem to have drained our mental batteries.

Research has backed this finding . Research has also indicated that mental health challenges have also been more keenly felt by young people.

Why might this be?

“The mental health of children has been influenced by several ways, as this unprecedented situation changed a way they typically grow, learn, play, behave, interact, and manage emotions”

Children are still developing socially, emotionally, intellectually and personally. It is very important for them to be in caring social environments for this development to take place. In general, this would occur at school, supplemented by a caring home. But with extended lockdown and learning from home, there has come great disruption to these supportive relationships.

Lockdown has brought uncertainty and a disruption of daily routines that may upset children. Working from home is not just stressful for adults who may not have the time and skills of a teacher. It is a challenge for children to focus in a home context, to maintain motivation and to limit misbehaviour.

Not seeing close friends and relatives – particularly elderly relatives who may not be able to interact with visitors – may be a source of upset.

Loss of family income can challenge for the whole family. In some cases, dysfunctional patterns of behaviour within a family can be accentuated by having the whole family together for long periods.

Even simple things like spending time in the sunshine, rather than being locked at home, can affect children’s Vitamin D, also impacting wellbeing.

For younger children there may also be a fear of the virus – something is “coming to get them” or a family member may be at risk of catching the virus.

For children already at risk of mental health issues, lockdown may be especially difficult. It has been estimated that nearly 50% of mental disorders start to affect the children by the age of 14, and lockdown may affect the presentation of these issues. The stress of lockdown may exacerbate or bring on an episode. Other mental health risks include anxiety, or excess worrying, depression or mood disorders. ADHD may emerge. Developmental delays may increase. And, in some cases, it looks like these emergent issues may continue long after the lockdown ends.

So what can we do about these issues?

Social distancing and mask-wearing seems to be a stopgap. Fundamentally our physical and mental safety relies on reducing the impact of COVID through mass vaccination.

In the meantime, the World Health Organisation has generally recommended taking breaks from watching, reading, or listening to news stories, including social media, because continually being bombarded by news of the pandemic can be distressing. Exercising regularly, practicing yoga or meditation, eating healthy and proper sleeping properly benefit mental health. It is also crucial that parents provide enough support to their children and help them to process the information about the pandemic because these interventions could help minimize their anxiety or fear . Positive parenting may help. It may also be necessary to recruit extra personnel, clinicians and mental health professionals in schools to help children who are having a rough time.

As the cliché goes, we are all in this together…

Dr. Richard Schweizer, Policy Officer at One Door Mental Health richard.schweizer@onedoor.org.au.  

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 Dr Richard Schweizer

Dr Richard Schweizer 

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