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How COVID-19 Is Affecting the Mental Health of Children and Adolescents

July 15, 2020

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(Part 1 of a 4-part series)

In this installment of "Coping During COVID-19,Psych Congress Steering Committee member Julie Carbray, PhD, FPMHNP-BC, PMHCNS-BC, APRN, discusses the mental health effects most commonly being seen in children and adolescents during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr. Carbray is Clinical Professor of Psychiatry and Nursing, University of Illinois at Chicago, and Administrative Director, Pediatric Mood Disorder Clinic, Pediatric Brain Research and Intervention Center, Department of Psychiatry, Chicago, Illinois.

"Coping During COVID-19" is an initiative designed to provide content and connection to mental health clinicians during the global pandemic.

Read the transcript:

During this pandemic, we've been seeing more anxiety across the board for children and adolescents. There's a lot of fear of the unknown, how long will this pandemic be going on, how will things look come fall when we're supposed to be returning to school, what if one of my family members becomes sick? So, we're seeing more anxiety across the board.

The other thing that we're seeing is more hopelessness, a sense of, "What do I do next?" Many of our kids were pretty engaged in their social lives. They were playing sports. They were involved in clubs and activities, or they got to see their friends, at the very least. This has been limited by quarantine. This has been limited, because many of the schools are closed, and activities are shut down for right now.

In this virtual world, there's a sense of more loneliness and less connecting with important aspects of a child's life—things like play, and just connecting with peers. Particularly for children and adolescents, there's been a greater sense of isolation.

Many of our kids who already were struggling with depression, we've seen more of those symptoms surfacing. Fears have been coming up as well, fears of family members becoming sick. These fears were also complicated by some of the racial unrest across the United States, too, where kids—particularly in our Chicagoland community—have been very concerned about safety, looting, rioting.

Some of this comes up in a child's nightmares or in their dreams. The biggest challenge when you have loneliness compounded with fear is that kids and adolescents, just like adults do, tend to withdraw.

They'll isolate more, and parents have been more concerned during this time. Parents that I haven't heard from in some time, I've been meeting with their families just to check in, because parents have been really concerned about the level of withdrawal that they're seeing in their kids and isolation behind their closed doors. Knowing that their lives have really changed, and parents really wanting to help their kids to reconnect with something, and a sense of purpose during this time of unknowns.

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