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Study Suggests Strategies To Support Kids’ Mental Health During Pandemic

Researchers suggest simple, practical steps that families can take to promote resilience against mental health problems.

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. – The Covid-19 pandemic has impacted our lives from professional to personal, but have we thought about how it has affected children’s mental health?

For 18 months, children have dealt with the disruption of their daily lives, fear of Covid-19 contagion, and sometimes death in the family.

The emergence and spread of the delta variant have renewed the uncertainty about young people’s safety as schools have started to reopen across the country.

new study  has suggested several simple, practical steps that families can take to promote resilience against mental health problems in youth during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The study findings were  published  in the open-access journal  ‘PLOS ONE ‘ by  Maya Rosen  of  Harvard University , US, and colleagues.

The Covid-19 pandemic has introduced unprecedented change into the lives of children and adolescents.

Many of these disruptions, coupled with pandemic-related stressors, are likely to increase youth’s risk of depression, anxiety, and behavioral problems.

“The biggest thing that we hope parents take from the study is that while the pandemic has negatively impacted youth mental health, there are some simple steps that families can take that may have a positive impact,” said Rosen, the first author on the paper .

Researchers recruited participants from two ongoing longitudinal studies of children and adolescents in the greater Seattle area in the new study.

As a part of the research, 224 youth and their caregivers completed an initial questionnaire assessing social behaviors, psychopathology, and pandemic-related stressors in April and May 2020.

184 of these youth and their caregivers completed a similar battery of assessments six months later, in November 2020 through January 2021.

Since data on each youth was available prior to the pandemic, results could be controlled for pre-pandemic symptoms at each time point.

The youth ranged in age from 7 to 15 years old, where 47.8 percent were females.

Their racial and ethnic background reflected the Seattle area, with 66 percent of participants White, 11 percent Black, 11 percent Asian, and 8 percent Hispanic or Latino.

As a result, the number of pandemic-related stressors was strongly associated with increases in both internalizing (b = 0.345, p <0.001) and externalizing (b = 0.297, p <0.001) symptoms during the pandemic after controlling for pre-pandemic symptoms .

“Early in the pandemic, youths who spent less time on digital devices (b = 0.272, p = .0004), as well as those who consumed less than 2 hours of news per day (b = 0.193, p = .010), had lower externalizing symptoms, ”read the research.

“While the ones who spent greater time in nature were marginally associated with lower internalizing symptoms (b = -0.124, p = .074).”

Getting the recommended amount of sleep (b = 0.-0.158, p = .080) and having a more structured daily routine during stay-at-home orders (b = -0.164, p = .049) was associated with lower levels of externalizing psychopathology six months later.

“Finally, the strong association between pandemic-related stressors and psychopathology was absent among children with lower amounts of screen time and news media consumption,” Rosen said.

The authors said that the study identified a set of strategies that can be beneficial to families when considering how to support their children’s mental health during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

“Mental health problems increased dramatically among children and adolescents during the Covid-19 pandemic,” the authors said.

“Particularly among those who experienced high levels of pandemic-related stressors including serious illness or death of a family member, significant financial loss, and social isolation.”

“A number of simple strategies families engaged in appeared to promote better mental health during the pandemic.”

“The strategies include having a structured daily routine, limiting passive screen time use, limiting exposure to news media about the pandemic, and to a lesser extent spending more time in nature, and getting the recommended amount of sleep,” the authors said.

(With inputs from ANI)

Edited by Vaibhav Pawar and Pallavi Mehra