Every age group has been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. The virus has harmed families in unprecedented ways and taken a toll on everyone’s mental health. From social isolation to loss of normalcy, the last 18 months have been tough for everyone, but especially for children.
Before the pandemic, children were dealing with periods of moodiness, troubles with friends, and academic pressures. However, between the intensified feelings of loneliness due to quarantine and the ever-changing remote-versus-in-person schooling, their mental health is more at-risk than ever. Here’s a summary of the key issues affecting young people in this crisis.
Help families find your services with Counseling Connection. Sign up today.
Impacts of COVID-19 on Children
Stressful Home Environments
With parents working from home and kids in a constant loop of in-school versus virtual learning, the pandemic has changed family dynamics and created stressful home environments for several children. Children of families who lost their jobs during the pandemic, children living in unsafe homes, and children from low-income families are among those hit the hardest.
A safe, food-secure home is essential to children’s wellbeing and especially crucial for the healthy development of young children. Before the pandemic, food insecurity was a problem for more than one in 10 households. But as a growing number of parents and guardians have lost their jobs, food insecurity in America has increased. As a result, childhood hunger has reached startling levels.
Children felt this sharply when schools closed as they lost access to free meals. Schools tried to fill the gap, but nationwide 1.65 billion fewer breakfasts and lunches were served in 2020 as compared to 2019 – a decrease of 30%.
Facing hunger is stressful, especially for children. Kids who constantly worry about where their next meal will come from are at increased risk for mental health problems such as depression, anxiety, and even post-traumatic stress disorder.
Fear of Germs
For children, fears about germs, catching illnesses, and needing things to stay clean might stick around long after the world returns to normal. Fear of germs is common among kids with anxiety and OCD, and the pandemic has intensified these fears. However, even if a child isn’t dealing with germaphobia, they could be worried about bringing germs home from school and impacting their family.
A fear of germs can quickly become overwhelming for children and families alike. Fortunately, therapy can help kids develop a healthier level of concern about hygiene and germs.
Returning to School
Even in a typical year, the start of the school year brings new anxieties and concerns to the forefront for many families. This is because school transitions, including returning to school after a summer break, can be very stressful on children. Kids worry about making friends, bullies, and getting good grades. Adding a global pandemic on top of these typical back-to-school stressors could easily overwhelm kids.
And for those kids who are still learning remotely or following a hybrid approach, virtual learning or constantly changing learning conditions can be very challenging.
The pandemic has changed the way kids socialize. During lockdowns, kids spent more time at home, unable to hang out with friends, and experience crowded areas. Adverse effects of this isolation can cause kids to experience increased rates of loneliness and social anxiety.
Children who experienced the loss of a loved one to COVID-19 are at increased risk for mental health challenges and may struggle to manage their loss and grief. For children, the loss of a loved one can affect their sense of security and increase their risk of depression and anxiety.
What About Teenagers?
Teenagers’ lives have been completely uprooted by the pandemic, and their mental health has been gravely affected. Since the onset of COVID-19, more than 50% of the teens said they struggled with anxiety, 43% with depression, and 45% felt more stress than usual. The pandemic has uniquely impacted teenagers, who are developmentally amid a critical transition toward independence.
Many teenagers experienced a loss during the pandemic that adults might not fully understand: senior trips, final theater performances, sports seasons, prom, graduation ceremonies. The abrupt cancellation of major milestones has left many teenagers feeling like they have nothing to look forward to. This feeling is a form of grief, and the fallout from missing these significant moments can be devastating for teenagers.
Ultimately, the impact of all these delayed or missed milestones on a teenager’s well-being is still unknown, but feelings of loss, anxiety, and anger are common.
We hear a lot about adults who have lost their jobs, but the same can be said for teenagers. The job market for teenagers was upended in 2020, with about 1.9 million 16–19-year-olds losing their jobs.
Summer internships were eliminated, making it hard for older teens to get career experience. Teenagers who rely on summer jobs or part-time work to save up for college are struggling to get hired.
Youth employment plays a pivotal role in helping young people to negotiate the transitional period into adulthood. In addition, working has been shown to stabilize people struggling with mental health disorders.
Effects on Mental Health
The number of teenagers hospitalized for suspected suicide attempts spiked in 2020 and 2021. Girls are especially at risk. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found the rate at which girls ages 12 through 17 were visiting the emergency room for suicide attempts between February and March of 2021 increased nearly 51% compared to the same period in 2019.
Depression and Anxiety
According to recent research, depression and anxiety in children and teenagers doubled compared to pre-pandemic levels. It’s estimated that 1 in 3 girls and 1 in 5 teen boys have experienced new or worsening anxiety since the pandemic began.
The ability for teenagers and children to socialize, exercise, eat well, and more was compromised due to the pandemic. These things are pillars of health, and young people will likely experience long-term consequences to their mental health as a result. In addition, the developmental age of children and teenagers makes them especially vulnerable to long-term adverse effects.
Benefits of Therapy
Children may find it difficult to express their feelings with words. Play therapy is especially beneficial for children throughout the pandemic. Put simply, play therapy uses play to help kids more effectively communicate and resolve their troubles. Art therapy has also been widely used to help develop emotionally stronger children during COVID-19.
For teenagers, having access to traditional in-person or virtual therapy can help with suicidal thoughts and other mental illnesses. In addition, it helps teenagers with personal issues as well as issues associated with being an adolescent in a pandemic. Ultimately, therapy helps teenagers learn psychological tools for managing intense emotions and reduce their stress levels.
With anxiety on the rise and everyone’s emotions intensified, families need therapy now more than ever. Therapy can help give children and teenagers the coping skills they need to deal with their feelings in a productive way. In these challenging times, therapy can be a lifeline for children and teenagers in pain.
Stay connected. Sign up for our newsletter.