During the Covid-19 pandemic, depression and anxiety in youth doubled compared to pre-pandemic levels, according to the research.
1 in 4 young people globally are experiencing clinically elevated depression symptoms, while 1 in 5 youth are experiencing clinically elevated anxiety symptoms. “Results from this analysis suggest that the pandemic has likely instigated a global mental health crisis in youth,” said study author Sheri Madigan, an associate professor of clinical psychology and Canada research chair in determinants of child development at the University of Calgary.
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This cumulative toll could be due to the persistent social isolation, missed milestones, family financial problems and extended school disruptions, according to the analysis. Further studies following children for a longer period of time should be conducted, the study noted, to monitor the ongoing effects.
The meta-analysis, published Monday in JAMA Pediatrics, reviewed 29 studies with a total of more than 80,000 participants globally, ranging from age 4 to 17 with a mean age of 13. The included studies, which used empirical clinical data on depression and anxiety, were conducted in East Asia, Europe, North America, the Middle East, and Central and South America.
Youth mental health had already been declining prior to the pandemic. More than 1 in 3 high school students reported having persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness in 2019, a 40% increase from 2009, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In addition to that, the general uncertainty and disruptions of daily routines caused by the pandemic likely increased symptoms of generalized anxiety in youth, including fear, uncontrollable worry and hyperarousal, the study noted.
Worry for the health of family and friends as Covid-19 spread also likely contributed to children’s heightened anxiety, according to the research. “Children and youth have experienced extraordinary disruption and stress during the pandemic, and it’s taken a toll on their mental health,” Madigan said. “When mental health problems persist and aren’t properly addressed, they can have lasting consequences.”