Depression and anxiety symptoms doubled in youth amid pandemic

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Depression and anxiety symptoms have doubled in children and adolescents due to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic according to a new study by researchers from the University of Calgary published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics.

For the meta-analysis, researchers pooled together data from 29 separate studies from around the world, including 80,879 youth globally. The new findings show that depression and anxiety symptoms have doubled in children and adolescents when compared to pre-pandemic times. The study also shows that older adolescents and girls are experiencing the highest levels of depression and anxiety.

“We know from other studies that rates of depression and anxiety in youth tend to ebb and flow with restrictions,” said Sheri Madigan, PhD, co-author of the paper, a clinical psychologist, and Canada Research Chair in Determinants of Child Development, in a statement. “When more restrictions are imposed, rates go up. Being socially isolated, kept away from their friends, their school routines, and social interactions has proven to be really hard on kids.”

At the beginning of the pandemic, Madigan said most people thought it would be difficult at the outset but that kids would be better over time, as they adjusted and got back to school. When the pandemic persisted, youth missed a lot of milestones, for a substantial period of their lives. For many adolescents that loss was especially impactful. Older teens in particular have missed out on significant life events such as graduations, sporting events and various coming of age activities.

As more of the population becomes vaccinated and an end to the pandemic seems near, the question arises: how will our children and adolescents fare? Will they bounce back from this traumatic time, or will the mental health impacts linger? At this point, the researchers said, we don’t really know. However, they said the elevated mental health symptoms in youth are rising and that’s a problem that must not be underestimated.

The study recommends that more mental health supports should be put in place to help children and adolescents in this time of need.

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