COVID-19 and Children’s Mental Health

Research on rising issues and ways to solve them.

Posted Apr 28, 2020

 Markus Spiske/Unsplash
Source: Markus Spiske/Unsplash

The global pandemic that began in Wuhan, China in November 2019 has led to the lockdown of businesses, schools, restaurants, and recreational centers, leaving a huge impact on the world. Current studies indicate the confirmed number of cases globally is 858,669 the number of deaths is 42,151. Although a few cases of children have been registered, they are believed to be less vulnerable to the COVID-19 pandemic, except those with underlying health conditions such as asthma.

Studies so far indicate that the pandemic could have negative effects on children’s physical and mental health, and yet parents do not have the appropriate mental health or counseling skills to help their children or themselves. However, due to uncertainties surrounding the outbreak and ongoing scientific research, it’s estimated that 220 million Chinese children are at a risk of facing mental health issues due to potential prolonged school closure and home containment.

Additionally, the fear that the psychological impact on children and adolescents could potentially be neglected has exacerbating effects. During the first months of the outbreak in China, studies revealed that the average posttraumatic scores were four times higher among children who were quarantined than those who were not. This implies that, due to restrictions to routine lifestyle, psychosocial stress caused by home confinement or isolation could further exacerbate the harmful effects on the child’s physical and mental health.

Studies show that the mental health needs of COVID-19 patients are on the rise and yet poorly met. Research indicates that the mental health needs of patients with confirmed COVID-19, patients with suspected infection, quarantined family members, including medical personnel have been poorly managed.

Although these studies were originally conducted in China, the nations that are currently getting new cases of COVID-19 should learn from China’s experience. For instance, home confinement restricts children from their normal lifestyles which has effects on their physical and mental health. Since children are constantly exposed to COVID-19 related news which could alleviate their anxiety and panic, parents need to create direct conversations with children about these issues to avoid panic and reduce anxiety. This could also create opportunities to develop close and open communication with children so that any physical and psychological concerns are addressed.

It’s important that the health authorities establish multidisciplinary mental health taskforce teams compromised of professional psychiatrists, psychiatric nurses, clinical psychologists, and other mental health workers at regional and national levels to provide mental health support to patients. Professionals with specialized skills should collaborate and work with religious clergy to bring specialized treatments and appropriate mental health services to families and patients, including those who have been isolated.

Public health ministries should utilize technology, media, mobile devices, and applications (WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram, IMO, and others) to reach out to the affected communities to provide psychological counseling to patients, as well as their families. Additionally, given that children are vulnerable to environmental risks that affect physical health, mental health, and future adult life performance, it’s important that what affects them now is addressed in order to avoid any long-term consequences. It’s also important that parents or caretakers address children’s needs, especially because they may not be able to advocate for themselves.

Written by Stella Otai, a master's student at Wheaton College (IL) studying Humanitarian and Disaster Leadership.