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Pandemic coincided with increase in mental health problems for children

New research has found an association between the COVID-19 pandemic and a ‘sharp’ increase in mental health issues for children aged 11 to 12 years old.

The study, conducted by the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN) at King’s College London (KCL), examined the mental health of adolescent children using a sample representative of the general population.

Researchers then compared levels of emotional and behavioural problems immediately before and during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Participants, including children aged 11 to 12 years old and their mothers, provided mental health data between December 2019 and March 2020 and again three months later.

Within the 202 participants included, 89% were assessed both pre- and post-onset of COVID-19, with 44% of those reporting an increase in symptoms of depression and 26% reporting the same about PTSD.

According to the study, published in JCPP Advances, girls and children with prior experience of emotional problems had elevated rates of depression both pre- and post-onset of COVID-19.

Researchers noted that the group which experienced the most notable increase in behavioural problems were those with no prior experience of mental health issues, suggesting that these problems were associated with the pandemic.

“Our findings indicate that referrals for depression and disruptive behaviour problems during the pandemic are likely to be made up of two kinds of young people; those with the onset of new mental health problems for which COVID-19 related issues may be the most relevant, and others where COVID-19 has added to pre-existing vulnerability with a need for attention to both,” said Nicola Wright, department of biostatistics & health informatics at KCL.

“What’s not yet clear is whether COVID-19 exposure has simply ‘brought forward’ the first episode of depression in children who would have become depressed later in its absence. Meanwhile the findings underline the need for a better understanding of risk and protective factors for COVID-19 related mental health problems as a basis for new treatments,” she added.

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