Researchers and public health experts continue to collect important data on children’s mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic, but the full impact of pandemic mitigation measures on child/adolescent mental health may not be known for some time.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in addition to pandemic-related stressors, there may be unintended consequences of public health efforts to effectively manage the pandemic, including reduced or modified access to places such as schools and clinical and community agencies where trained adult professionals are able to identify and help children who may be struggling with mental health or other social-emotional problems.
We do, however, know that children and adolescents thrive on positive peer social interactions and that the traditional ways children interact with friends has been significantly limited by the steps required to curb the spread of COVID-19. Those social-emotional bonds are critically important for children and especially teens.
As we enter one year since the early stages of the pandemic in March 2020, the real challenge for children is how to physically distance while maintaining socially and emotionally close to others.
Though it is important to balance the risk of screen-time overload, technology remains a key resource for allowing children to continue to feel connected to their peers.
Equally important is catching warning signs of mental health distress.
In young children, signs* may include:
- Fussiness and irritability, crying more easily, and being more difficult to console.
- Trouble falling asleep or waking up more during the night.
- Increased clinginess, hitting, frustration, biting, and more frequent or intense tantrums
- Urgently demanding things they need while seeming unable to feel satisfied
In older children and adolescents, signs may include:
- Changes in mood or behavior that are not usual for your child, including hearing or seeing things that others do not hear or see
- Loss of interest in things they used to enjoy
- Trouble falling or staying asleep or sleeping all the time.
- Changes in weight or eating patterns
- Changes in appearance and basic personal hygiene
- Increased talk about death or suicide
Catching these symptoms early and using tele-health services can mean avoiding an urgent mental health crisis and a visit to the Emergency Department. Most community-based treatment programs offer in-person and virtual options, including those that may be best equipped to treat pediatric mental health concerns. Anyone can contact the Member Services team at Community Behavioral Health at 1-888-545-2600 or go to cbhphilly.org for information and connections. If you have private insurance, you can contact your insurance company to get connected to a program.