Children's Mental Health Challenges Post-COVID
Meg Smith, MSW, LICSW, ACSW
Workforce Development Coordinator, Center for Trauma Care in Schools
With the COVID pandemic in gradual retreat, we are only now starting to get the data to support what most people working with youth have seen anecdotally: a sharp rise in children’s mental health challenges. The lockdown and school closures have made it harder to recognize signs of child abuse, mental health concerns, and other challenges such as and caregiver loss, family economic stress, housing and food insecurity. A recent longitudinal study conducted at the Boston Medical Center, Boston, Massachusetts found a sharp rise in symptoms of depression and anxiety during the pandemic, to 18 percent from 5 percent pre-pandemic for children of color. Caregivers reported higher social risks, such as food and housing insecurity, compared to before the pandemic. Half of the families reported food insecurity during the pandemic, compared to 16 percent before. The study’s author, Dr. Abigail Spencer, assistant professor of psychiatry at BMC, reported that the findings “point to the critical need for public health efforts to mitigate the psychosocial effects of the pandemic on children and communities of color while searching for solutions to support the increased demand.”
In an interview, Dr. Spencer noted that, “We need new or expanded community-based, school-based, family-based, and trauma-informed treatment and prevention programs to reach the most affected families.” She underscored how important school is in the lives of children. She said that school, “is good for kids on multiple levels,” and that “families are extremely important, but often that peer group is not replaceable within the confines of the family home.” For students who are experiencing stress and adversity, having peer and adult support in the schools, as well as mental health supports located on site, can make all the difference in a student’s life. The relationships that students form with each other and with the adults in their school help to create the connection and belongingness that can deepen their engagement with teaching and learning and can improve their chance for not only academic success but positive mental wellness.