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The Coronavirus Seems to Spare Most Kids From Illness, but Its Effect on Their Mental Health Is Deepening

If COVID-19 is sparing most kids’ bodies, it’s not being so kind to their minds. Nobody is immune to the stress that comes with a pandemic and related quarantining. Children, however, may be at particular risk. Living in a universe that is already out of their control, they can become especially shaken when the verities they count on to give the world order–the rituals in their lives, the very day-to-dayness of living–get blown to bits.

As summer approached, many of the 12,000 camps in the U.S. either postponed their seasons or canceled them altogether, further leaving children isolated. “Especially for kids predisposed to seeing the world in pessimistic terms, there will be more anxiety because they feel so much more out of control,” says Mary Alvord, a Maryland-based psychologist specializing in children, and co-author of Resilience Builder Program for Children and Adolescents. “We’re hearing kids say, ‘I’m afraid for myself, for my parents. What if we get sick?’”

For now, there is a dearth of hard research on how the pandemic is affecting children’s mental health, mostly because the virus has been so fast-moving and studies take time. What data does exist is troubling. In one study out of China, published in JAMA Pediatrics, researchers in Hubei province, where the pandemic originated, examined a sample group of 2,330 schoolchildren for signs of emotional distress. The kids had been locked down for what, to quarantine-weary Americans, likely seems like a relatively short period–an average of 33.7 days. Even after that single month, 22.6% of them reported depressive symptoms and 18.9% were experiencing anxiety.

Loneliness in lockdown is common for kids separated from their friends. But all children will not be emotionally rattled by the pandemic equally–or even at all; COVID-19 will affect them to different degrees and in different ways. Roxane Cohen Silver, a social psychologist at the University of California, Irvine, specializes in human responses to mass trauma. Silver has found that the closer individuals are to a crisis–both geographically and personally–the greater the impact.

“The impact on a child’s sense of safety depends on the extent to which the family is affected,” Silver says. “If there is a loss or if the family has a drastic change in their economic consequences, this event would shape the children’s view of the world.”

“Children who were struggling before [the pandemic] are at higher risk now,” says psychologist Robin Gurwitch, a professor at Duke University Medical Center. “You have to be careful about kids who were already in mental-health services; we have to make sure services aren’t disrupted.”

Age can also be a big factor in how hard the pandemic hits kids emotionally. Very small children might not notice anything is different except that their parents aren’t going to work, which may seem like all upside.

But those same younger kids have acutely twitchy antennae when it comes to reading the anxious mood of the older people around them. The ambient stress in a locked-down household in which parents are fretting, perhaps quarreling, and disinfecting everything that doesn’t move does not go unnoticed by children. “In very young children, you might see more clinginess,” says Gurwitch.

For school-agers and teens, being with parents is all downside, and being with friends is everything. In the case of the pandemic, that essential socializing is out of the question.

If there is one thing that’s certain about the impact of the pandemic on the young mind, it’s that it’s not going to stop until the spread of COVID-19 itself does. For parents and other caregivers, that means mitigating the problem, not mending it altogether.

Excerpted from “The Coronavirus Seems to Spare Most Kids From Illness, but Its Effect on Their Mental Health Is Deepening” in Time magazine. Read the full article.

Source: Time | The Coronavirus Seems to Spare Most Kids From Illness, but Its Effect on Their Mental Health Is Deepening, https://time.com/5870478/children-mental-health-coronavirus | © 2020 TIME USA, LLC

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