Children’s Mental Health and Pandemic 1

June 1, 2021

Caregivers of youth reported significantly worse psychological well-being in children and adolescents after school closures and the switch to remote learning as compared to before: a quarter of children are stressed, anxious, angry or agitated and a third of youth lonely.

Caregivers of youth in Chicago Public Schools reported significantly worse psychological well-being in children and adolescents after school closures as compared to before.

A recent news release by “Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago” reports that a survey of over 32,000 caregivers of youth in Chicago Public Schools found that around a quarter of children and adolescents were described as stressed, anxious, angry or agitated after pandemic-related school closures and the switch to remote learning; around a third of youth were described by caregivers as lonely and only one-third were described as having positive social and peer relationships.

New study, titled, “Caregiver Perceptions of Children’s Psychological Well-being During the covid-19 Pandemic” and published in the journal JAMA Network Open, found that “covid-19 pandemic and resulting exposure to stress were associated with worse youth psychological well-being, demonstrating the need for a comprehensive public health approach that prioritizes children’s well-being and draws broad public attention to the mental health needs of youth.”

Researchers write: “In this survey study among 32,217 caregivers of public-school students, endorsement of child mental health concerns was significantly higher and endorsement of positive adjustment characteristics was significantly lower after the end of in-person instruction compared with before. After accounting for covariates, child mental health concerns increased in probability and positive adjustment characteristics decreased in probability as covid-19 exposure and family stressors increased.”

Investigation’s objective was “to examine caregiver-reported changes in the psychological well-being of their children 3 to 4 months after the start of covid-19 stay-at-home orders, and to examine the association of caregiver-reported covid-19 exposure and family stressors with caregiver perceptions of child psychological well-being. Understanding youth well-being during the covid-19 pandemic can help appropriately allocate resources and inform policies to support youth.”

“This survey study”, authors write, “used an anonymous survey distributed via email from June 24 to July 15, 2020, to 350 000 families of students attending public schools in Chicago, Illinois. The a priori hypotheses were that caregivers would report worsening in child psychological well-being during the closure period compared with preclosure and that exposure to covid-19–related stressors would be associated with a higher probability of worsening child psychological well-being.”

Outcomes were 7 mental health concerns (agitated or angry, lonely, anxious, stressed, depressed or low mood, self harm, and thoughts of suicide) and 5 positive adjustment characteristics (relaxed, interacts positively with siblings or family members, has positive social or peer relationships, talks about plans for the near or far future, and hopeful or positive) reported by caregivers using a retrospective pre-post design.

“Among 350,000 families invited to participate, 32,217 caregivers completed the survey on behalf of 49,397 children in prekindergarten through 12th grade. Child-specific outcomes were reported for 40,723 to 40,852 children depending on the specific question.” The survey was distributed from June 24 to July 15, 2020, and data were analyzed from September 10, 2020, to March 15, 2021.

“The covid-19 pandemic”, thay state, “is associated with stressors that have deleterious impacts on children’s mental health, including increased exposure to illness and death; economic, educational and social sequelae that result from stay-at-home orders; school closures and remote learning; and worsening caregiver mental health. Despite these concerns, few studies have examined youth mental health during the covid-19 pandemic. Studies from early in the pandemic show an increase in depressive and anxiety symptoms among adolescents. Less is known about risk for serious mental health concerns during the pandemic, such as suicide.”

Authors found that covid-19 related stressors were experienced by nearly all families in the survey: “The findings of this survey study suggest that the covid-19 pandemic is associated with widespread effects on children’s mental health, linked not only to children’s mood and peer relationships but also to their positive adjustment and familial interactions. For all youth, covid-19 was associated with prolonged disruptions in daily routines, decreased exposure to adult and peer relationships, and reduced opportunities for academic and social development.”

“Caregivers are reporting that the pandemic and school closures have taken a substantial emotional toll on their children and adolescents,” said lead author Tali Raviv, psychologist and Associate Director of the “Center for Childhood Resilience” (CCR) at Lurie Children’s Hospital. “Greater public attention to youth mental health issues during this time can help appropriately allocate resources and inform policies to support the well-being of students as schools begin to reopen.”

“The pandemic revealed to all what we’ve long known is true: schools are important community hubs that meet fundamental needs like access to food, health and mental health supports and services, as well as other kinds of protection,” said co-author Kenneth Fox, MD, from the Chicago Public Schools.

Full Investigation “Caregiver Perceptions of Children’s Psychological Well-being During the covid-19 Pandemic”
News Relase by Lurie Children’s Hospital
Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago
Center for Childhood Resilience (CCR)