COVID and Mental Health Research Summary

Title: Mostly worse, occasionally better: impact of COVID-19 pandemic on the mental health of Canadian children and adolescents


What is the research about?

The POND Network joined forces with SickKids, TARGet Kids, and Spit for Science to understand the impact of COVID-19 emergency measures on kids’ mental health with and without neurodevelopmental disorders (NDDs). The researchers looked at mental health changes across six domains: depression, anxiety, irritability, attention, hyperactivity, and obsessions/compulsions. The researchers also looked to determine if some kids were more vulnerable than others.

What did the researchers do?

The researchers leveraged four studies that were already underway. Two studies focused on children with mental health or neurodevelopmental diagnoses (POND Network & SickKids). Two studies were community-based (TARGet Kids! & Spit for Science). The researchers then sent an online questionnaire to participants of all four studies that agreed to do the survey. The research participants answered the questionnaires from April 15 to June 19, 2020. The questionnaire asked, “Compared to the time BEFORE the COVID-19 crisis, how is your child’s (your) overall mood” for each of the six mental health domains.

What did the researchers find?

Seventy percent of kids reported worse mental health during the first wave of COVID-19. Kids with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and intellectual disabilities (ID) experienced even worse outcomes. Deterioration in depression, irritability, attention, and hyperactivity were highest in children and adolescents with ASD while deterioration in anxiety and obsession/compulsions was highest among children and adolescents with mental health and ASD diagnoses. The researchers also determined that social isolation negatively impacted all domains of child and adolescent mental health. The researchers recommend further investigation on the mental health effects of lockdown interventions across a full-time period, including transitions in and out of lockdown and in and out of in-person school. Access to care should remain a priority, and pandemic care pathways should be developed. Furthermore, social activities should be maintained while balancing COVID-19 risk and mental health impacts. Factors associate with some children doing better should be investigated to inform interventions for all children.

Take home message:

Most children experience worse mental health during the first lockdown due to the pandemic. Kids with NDDs, especially ASD and ID, reported worse mental health. Some children experienced improvements in mental health.


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