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Children's mental health issues brought on by pandemic could be felt for generations

FILE - In this Feb. 2, 2021, file photo, students wear masks as they work in a fourth-grade classroom, at Elk Ridge Elementary School in Buckley, Wash. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)
FILE - In this Feb. 2, 2021, file photo, students wear masks as they work in a fourth-grade classroom, at Elk Ridge Elementary School in Buckley, Wash. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)
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WASHINGTON (TND) — Experts and psychologists are continuing to warn of the consequences the COVID-19 pandemic will have on children’s mental health.

Numerous studies have found children are suffering mentally due to the pandemic and the related lockdowns, disruptions, and ill effects on the health of kids and their loved ones.

A recent analysis of previous studies about mental health found increased rates of anxiety, depression, stress-related disorders and various other mental health issues during the pandemic. Children and adolescents were found to be more likely to harm themselves and have difficulties with impulse control.

“The pandemic is like the perfect storm of stressors because you've got high stakes and uncertain timeline. You've got major disruption to family roles and routines,” said Dr. Mitch Prinstein, chief science officer for the American Psychological Association. “You've got potential death, illness, financial hardship, and then you're taking away all the resilience factors like social support, free time, recreation so it really is the perfect storm of risk factors to lead to mental health difficulties.

If you combine that with 70 years of neglect of mental health, particularly for kids and adolescents in this country, that explains how we got to where we are now.”

Dr. M. Mahbub Hossain of Texas A&M University coauthored the analysis, which found children with lower socioeconomic status, adverse family dynamics and restricted mobility were being hit the hardest.

Restrictions during the pandemic like closing schools and not seeing classmates took away chances for youth to avoid mental health struggles.

“There are many factors related to COVID-19 that are affecting mental health in children,” Hossain said. “Social distancing, lack of meaningful social interactions, closure of schools and disrupted psychosocial connections, internet addiction, adverse household experiences such as domestic abuse, lack of coping resources and skills, and experiencing health-related events within the household or community have negatively impacted mental health in young people.”

A lack of resources for kids in need makes the challenge of providing them with care even more difficult. Inadequate funding or resources is an issue experts say long predated the pandemic.

“Frontline workers and child mental health have always been in short supply,” said Dr. Mark Schleiss, a pediatric infectious disease doctor and professor at the University of Minnesota. “[The] COVID pandemic has just exacerbated that.”

Without a significant investment from various levels of government, it will likely be impossible to address the needs of suffering kids.

“A real commitment would be that we should increase the amount of investment and a mental health workforce. It would be that we stopped talking about physical health versus mental health as if they're two separate things,” Prinstein said. “That's based on theories from the 1800s.”

While the side effects of the pandemic are already showing, the consequences will take much longer to fully come out.

“It is too early to say how these problems will evolve or subside, but early-life mental problems are likely to create prolonged consequences among the affected children and adolescents,” Hossain said. “We certainly need long-term research and preventive measures to better understand and address those problems.”

Recognizing the problem is the first step to addressing it, experts say. The next step will require a series of decisions to provide the world’s youth with the resources necessary to learn to cope and heal.

Some of the options include expanding training for health care providers and social workers and the use of telehealth services.

Mental health has worked its way into the mainstream through the years and as a result, more bills funding resources and treatment are being discussed in Congress. Some proposals offer significant investments but have yet to make their way to the president’s desk.

Lawmakers, parents and most of the population are supportive of protecting future generations but arguments over how to get there and what should be spent have gotten in the way.

“What always seems so short-sighted in the discussion is that today's kids are tomorrow's adults and the next day's parents,” Prinstein said. “What's happening right now, it isn't just about helping this cohort of kids. This is going to have an effect on a generation, perhaps even intergenerationally, that's going to be with us for decades.”

Schleiss called for an all-hands-on-deck approach.

“There needs to be a national effort as sort of a Manhattan Project for pediatric mental health, addressing these health equity issues, addressing the short supply making community mental health resources, more readily available,” Schleiss said. “Until we do that, I think we're going to have a lot of real challenges.”

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