“This study reports what many paediatricians have observed–while children rarely become ill with COVID-19, they have been significantly affected by the measures taken to reduce transmission of the virus.”Dr Karen Street.
No one and no part of society has been unaffected by the public health measures which has limited our social interaction during the Covid19 pandemic.
Every age group has been affected in some way, and even those who think they are the most resilient have found it a struggle on some days – particularly when in lockdown.
A study of primary school aged children in the East of England has found strong evidence of an increase in depressive symptoms in that age group.
The observational research which has been published in Archives of Disease in Childhood drew on data on children living in the East of England who were part of the Resilience in Education and Development (RED) study.
During lockdown,168 of their parents–equivalent to 29% of the overall sample–completed online validated mental health assessments to rate their children’s emotional wellbeing, anxiety and depression.
These ratings were then compared with baseline data collected around 18 months earlier, which included a mixture of parent-, teacher-, and child-rated mental health measures.
Compared with the initial baseline assessment, there were no significant changes in levels of anxiety or emotional wellbeing during lockdown.
But a significant increase of 0.74 in depressive symptoms was observed, the effect size of which was medium to large. Put simply, this means that, on average, there was around a 70% chance that depressive symptoms worsened during lockdown in any child.
These findings held true even after accounting for potentially influential factors, including age, gender, and socioeconomic status, although larger numbers of children are needed to confirm this, say the researchers.
Children were displaying changes in mood and behaviour linked to lethargy, struggling to enjoy activities, and feelings of sadness or emptiness.
Dr Karen Street, paediatric consultant and mental health lead at the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH), which co-owns the journal with BMJ said:
“This study reports what many paediatricians have observed–while children rarely become ill with COVID-19, they have been significantly affected by the measures taken to reduce transmission of the virus.
“While we hope that for many children a return to normality will see a ‘rebound’ in their emotional wellbeing, we also know that the socioeconomic impact of lockdown for many families will be ongoing for many years, and that this will have secondary negative effects on the mental health of children.
“Persisting mental health problems in childhood and adolescence are associated with poor outcomes for educational attainment, employment, and long term physical and mental health so it is vital there is sufficient investment in health, education and the voluntary sector to support children’s mental health as we recover from the pandemic.”