COVID and children’s mental health: financial hardship has taken its toll
It is well known that COVID-19 protocols have caused financial hardship – especially among the weakest and middle-class families — and now a new study is highlighting the toll these struggles have on children’s mental health.
A new study by researchers at Columbia University and Weill Cornell Medicine, both in New Yorksuggests that family economic difficulties were the main driver of “COVID-related stress, sadness and worry” among children.
The study, published in the JAMA Network, also suggested that COVID-related school closures had no impact on children’s mental health.
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The researchers analyzed data from the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development Study, which was funded by the National Institutes of Health. This study surveyed 6,030 children aged 10 to 13 in 21 US cities between 2020 and 2021.
It also collected data from children and their caregivers about their experiences during the pandemic, including job loss, distance education and COVID Policies.
Additionally, it included questions about the link between sleep and mental health.
Dr. Michael Roeske, licensed clinical psychologist and senior director of Newport Healthcare Center, who is headquartered in Californiadid not participate in the study, but said he was not surprised that financial difficulties had an impact on children’s mental health.
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“Children are often very sensitive to stress at home,” he told Fox News Digital in an email.
“If there were feelings of uncertainty and worry, which almost certainly stem from the loss of a job or a drop in income, it would undoubtedly affect them. If the parents are too stressed or scared themselves, children may no longer feel safe at home. This can be devastating to development.”
“If parents are too stressed or scared themselves, children may no longer feel safe at home.”
And in even more serious cases, children may worry about basic necessities and housing, he added.
Dr Roeske said he is seeing the effects of the pandemic firsthand through Newport Healthcare, which operates a series of mental health treatment centers across the country.
“We’re counseling more children struggling with depression, anxiety and suicidal tendencies than we’ve seen before,” he said.
Study suggests school closures had no impact on mental health
While other studies have found that school closures have indeed caused an increase in children’s mental health problems, this research has identified no such link.
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Dr. Yunyu Xiao, assistant professor at Weill Cornell Medicine and co-author of the study, offered a possible explanation for what may seem like a surprising lack of impact.
“If kids had more protective factors like increased parental care at home during lockdown, that would help with mental health,” she said in an email to Fox News Digital.
The study didn’t use specific measures of mental health, so it couldn’t speak to severity or the onset of new disorders, Dr. Roeske said.
“It is certainly difficult to argue that no association between school closures and children’s mental health existed given the resulting isolation, uncertainty and even extra time on devices,” did he declare.
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“The disruption of one’s normal routine in such an extreme way can alone cause anxiety and symptoms of depression.”
Communication and mental health care are key
Maintaining age-appropriate channels of communication, Roeske said, and carefully considering what children hear and experience financial hardship are key to protecting children’s mental health during difficult times.
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“Know the signs of distresslike changes in behavior, eating habits and sleep,” he said.
“And ask your child for help if things don’t get better or keep getting worse; don’t wait for things to get really bad.”
Dr. Roeske pointed out that many parents don’t know where to turn for help.
He cited a recent survey of 1,000 parents of teenagers aged 13 to 17 conducted by Wakefield Research for Newport Healthcare.
The researchers did not examine the severity or the onset of new psychiatric disorders.
While nearly half of parents (46%) said the pandemic has made them see more of their teens’ mental health issues during quarantine and remote learning, nearly 70% were unsure what to do if their teenager had any problems that might require treatment.
The study had limitations
Because the data was self-reported, Dr Xiao said there was a chance the answers could be biased or inaccurate. Additionally, the researchers did not examine the severity or onset of new psychiatric disorders.
“Future research should incorporate more precise measures of mental health, such as clinical scales, and use advanced techniques for more efficient, bias-corrected estimates,” she said.
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There may also be other confounding factors, such as COVID-19-related deaths in the family, which could affect mental health, Dr Xiao also said.
“Although our study aimed to correct for biases related to family financial and educational disruptions, this does not mean that no other significant disruptions are present,” she explained.
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The study also lacked a large enough sample to segment by race, age, gender or family background.