WINDSOR, ON, August 11, 2021 - - New research reveals a broad and pervasive impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on children’s mental health. Specifically, 51% of children reported clinically significant irritability, up to 34% of children reported clinically significant anxiety, and 25% of children reported clinically significant depression.
The study surveyed children aged 8 to 13 from 190 families in the Windsor-Essex region and their parents or guardians.
“We sought to establish a baseline to first understand the effects of the pandemic on children’s mental health” said Dr. Rappaport, lead investigator and Assistant Professor of Psychology, University of Windsor, and Director, Development & Etiology of Anxiety & Related conditions (D.E.A.R.) Lab in Windsor Ontario. “We then focused on establishing whether the impact on children was limited to PTSD-related symptoms consistent with trauma or included broader impacts consistent with chronic stress. Understanding the exact effect of the pandemic allows us to now design new treatments and tailor existing services to best meet children’s specific, individual needs.”
The study also explored whether children’s belief that social support is available from family and friends mitigated the impact of the pandemic on children’s distress. “Research on prior crises suggests that one’s sense that family and/or friends are available to help in a crisis can lessen its psychological toll and the risk of long-term psychosocial distress,” continues Rappaport.
“Since the beginning of the pandemic, there was an urgent need for data to inform public policy on education and social services for children,” concludes Rappaport. “For example, resources to aid children’s recovery from the pandemic may benefit from considering broad psychological effects beyond trauma or loss. Similarly, our results demonstrate the profound, long-term stress that the pandemic may produce for children and the variety of ways that children may be affected. Fortunately, this research and others like it across Canada and internationally are underway to inform new treatment strategies and to develop resources to help children recover.”
This is one of the first studies published on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the mental health of children in Canada, particularly to document the impact of the pandemic on the mental health of children without a previously diagnosed psychiatric condition.
The study was supported by funding from the Government of Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care COVID-19 Rapid Response Fund, WE-SPARK Health Institute, and the University of Windsor awarded to Lance M. Rappaport, Ph.D. Researchers include Alexandra Mactavish, B.A. (Hons.), Carli Mastronardi, Rosanne Menna, Ph.D., and Kimberley A. Babb, Ph.D., from the University of Windsor, Marco Battaglia, M.D., from the University of Toronto & Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, and Ananda B. Amstadter, Ph.D., from the Virginia Institute for Psychiatric and Behavioral Genetics, Virginia Commonwealth University.
The published paper is available for the public here