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Study Suggests Ways To Support Kids’ Mental Health During Pandemic

Mental health problems increased dramatically among children and adolescents during the Covid-19 pandemic.

WASHINGTON — A new study suggests several simple, practical steps that families can take to help with the mental health of youths during the Covid-19 pandemic. These include reducing passive screen time and news consumption, having a structured daily schedule, and getting enough sleep.

The study “Promoting youth mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic: A longitudinal study” is published in the open-access journal “PLOS ONE” by Maya Rosen of Harvard University, United States, 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. In the new research, researchers recruited participants from two ongoing longitudinal studies of children and adolescents in the greater Seattle area.

224 youth and their caregivers completed an initial questionnaire assessing social behaviors, psychopathology, and pandemic-related stressors in April 2020 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 from before 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 and were 47.8 percent female. 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.

The number of pandemic-related stressors was strongly associated with increases in internalizing and externalizing symptoms after controlling for pre-pandemic symptoms.

Early in the pandemic, youths who spent less time on digital devices and those who consumed less than 2 hours of news per day had lower externalizing symptoms. In comparison, greater time spent in nature was marginally associated with lower internalizing symptoms.

Getting the recommended amount of sleep and having a more structured daily routine during stay-at-home orders 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 screen time and news media consumption.

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

The authors wrote 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.

“A number of simple strategies families engaged in appeared to promote better mental health during the pandemic including 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,” said the authors while concluding.

(With inputs from ANI)

Edited by Ojaswin Kathuria and Nikita Nikhil