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Pandemic Has Depression, Anxiety Rates Among Youth Climbing Worldwide

By Steven Reinberg HealthDay Reporter

MONDAY, Aug. 9, 2021 (HealthDay News) -- If you think the pandemic hasn't taken a toll on the mental health of young people, ponder these two facts from a new review: one in four are suffering from depression, while one in five are struggling with anxiety.

"Being socially isolated, kept away from their friends, their school routines and extracurricular activities during the pandemic has proven to be difficult on youth," said lead researcher Sheri Madigan. She is an assistant professor in the department of psychology at the University of Calgary, in Canada.

"An important consideration for keeping schools open should be the mental health and well-being of youth," Madigan said.

Children tend to thrive when their environment is predictable, and in-person learning allows for more consistent routines and structure, so keeping schools open may protect children from mental health problems, she said.

"As the pandemic continues, along with public health safety measures such as school closures and social distancing, clinically significant anxiety and depression symptoms are likely to continue and to increase for youth as well," Madigan added.

For the study, the researchers reviewed 29 previously published or unpublished studies from January 2020 to March 2021 that included nearly 80,900 kids and teens. The studies were done across the globe, including the United States, where the problems were as acute as in the rest of the world, Madigan noted.

Older children had more mental health struggles compared with younger ones, and girls were at greater risk for both depression and anxiety. Mental health difficulties worsened as the pandemic progressed, the findings showed.

"Although there have been some COVID-19 recovery initiatives targeted at youth, we need to prioritize a mental health recovery plan that will address the increased severity of mental illness in children and adolescents, and the likely rising demand for mental health services among youth," Madigan said.

The report was published online Aug. 9 in JAMA Pediatrics.

Dr. Victor Fornari, vice chair of child and adolescent psychiatry at Zucker Hillside Hospital in Glen Oaks, N.Y., said he has seen firsthand the increase in mental health problems among the young.

"We've seen in our emergency rooms a 50% increase in suicidal adolescents presenting over the past 12 months and an almost 300% increase in admissions for eating disorders amongst adolescents," he said.

The pandemic has been stressful for adolescents as they struggle with home instruction and virtual schooling, Fornari said. "School is their social network. Without being with their peers, their friends, they're in a more stressful environment at home."

Parents are also feeling the stress, Fornari said.

"This article focuses on the impact on youth, but everyone is affected, so we can't just look at this article in isolation and not recognize its context," he said. "Parents are stressed — there are economic concerns. There's job instability, housing insecurity, food insecurity and financial insecurity, and there's an increase in child abuse and in domestic violence."

Fornari doesn't think these stresses will soon be over.

"This generation will feel the effect of the pandemic. This COVID virus, a pernicious one, continues to mutate in ways that we can't predict," he said.

"We'll see these problems persist and we may need to see a change in our behavior for some time, like wearing masks and social distancing and following the guidance of CDC, because it's not going away anytime soon," Fornari added.

More information

For more on COVID-19 and mental health, head to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

SOURCES: Sheri Madigan, PhD, assistant professor, department of psychology, University of Calgary, Canada; Victor Fornari, MD, vice chair, child and adolescent psychiatry, Zucker Hillside Hospital, Glen Oaks, N.Y.; JAMA Pediatrics, Aug. 9, 2021, online

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