The research is published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry and is funded by the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) with support from NIHR PenARC. The researchers compiled 51 studies that looked at how the pandemic affected the mental health of young people in several different areas. Crucially, these studies included data on baseline mental health collected before the pandemic, rather than relying on retrospective change.
The demand for fast-paced research amid the unfolding pandemic meant that the quality of the studies varied, with only four of the studies being classified as high-quality.
Although the evidence suggested a decline in some aspects of mental health, overall the findings were mixed and no clear pattern emerged. Studies that measured the same types of mental health problems in different ways produced mixed results, suggesting that the effects were not universal and depended on the circumstances and contexts of children, young people and families. According to the researchers, the overall effect is large enough to lead to an increase in the demand for services.
The author of the study, Dr Tamsin Newlove-Delgadofrom the University of Exeter, said: “The pandemic affected the lives of children and young people worldwide and we’ve heard a lot about the impact on mental health. A review of research in the field provides further evidence that demand for already stretched services is likely to increase, but perhaps not all are as bad as some headlines suggest . However, even a small average change in mental health symptoms for each child can mean that, on a societal level, a large number of children fall from OK control to the need for professional support. Children and young people must be prioritized in the recovery of the pandemic, and they must be clearly taken into account when planning future pandemic measures.”
The researchers found evidence of declines in several broader measures of mental health, such as increases in general behavioral, emotional, or anxiety problems, as well as many studies that reported no change and some that reported improvements in mental health. .
The article emphasizes that the research in this field is particularly difficult to interpret, because developmentally, mental health problems became more common in adolescence than in childhood. Therefore, it is difficult to assess to what extent the observed negative effects are due to the aging of the children in the studies or are actually related to the pandemic.
Co-author Professor Tamsin Fordfrom the University of Cambridge, said: “Examining the whole population of children and young people means that our study may not detect differences between groups who may have fared better or worse during the pandemic. For example, other studies have found that some children and young people reported sleeping and eating better when locked up time or it was easier for them to get into distance school because they could work at their own pace. Others struggled with the lack of structure or distance learning or lack of peers.”
The author of the study, Dr Abigail Russellfrom the University of Exeter, said: “The race for answers during the pandemic meant that a lot of research was done quickly using opportunistic samples, for example asking people in online surveys how they think their child’s mental health has been affected. Unfortunately, this means that the quality of the research is quite low overall, and even our research , which we included in the pre-pandemic data, were generally not of very high quality.
“This may be due in part to the pressure to quickly publish research on the pandemic and its impact. As a research community, we urgently need to improve young people struggling with mental health to understand the impact on them and theirs. In the longer term, researchers, funders and policy makers should adopt a more unified approach to supporting and conducting high-quality research .”
The study, published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, is titled “The impact of Covid-19 on child and adolescent psychopathology worldwide: a systematic review of studies with pre-pandemic and intra-pandemic data”.
Source: The Nordic Page