COVID-19 has resulted in far more widespread impact on the everyday lives of children around the world than SARS, MERS or H1N1. This ongoing pandemic may pose greater mental health risks for children due to prolonged school closings and strict quarantine measures.
Mental Health Impact of SARS
Researchers (Nearchou et al.) say that studies of previous epidemics show that individuals who recover from acute viral illnesses may experience significant mental distress and go on to experience psychiatric problems.
For example, the immediate aftermath of the SARS epidemic in 2002 saw the emergence of various psychiatric comorbidities, with the most common presenting problems involving increased levels of anxiety, depression, and features of post-traumatic stress reactions.
Specifically, children who were quarantined in hospital as a result of SARS often experienced feelings of sadness, attributed to feeling alone, and missing and worrying about family members.
Impact Due to School Closings
According to researchers (Singh et al.), the mental health impact of prolonged school closings can be manifested in several ways.
The home confinement of children and adolescents is associated with uncertainty and anxiety which is attributable to disruption in their education, physical activities and opportunities for socialization.
Absence of structured setting of the school for a long duration result in disruption in routine, boredom and lack of innovative ideas for engaging in various academic and extracurricular activities. Some children have expressed lower levels of affect for not being able to play outdoors, not meeting friends and not engaging in the in-person school activities.
These children have become more clingy, attention seeking and more dependent on their parents due to the long term shift in their routine. It is presumed that children might resist going to school after the lockdown gets over and may face difficulty in establishing rapport with their mentors after the schools reopen.
Impact Due to Quarantine and Isolation
Pandemic disasters and subsequent disease-containment responses may create a condition that families and children find traumatic.
In a 2013 study (Sprang and Silman), researchers recruited 398 parents in U.S. and Canada to investigate the psychosocial responses of children and their parents to pandemic disasters (SARS and H1N1).
This study used a mixed-method approach that included survey, focus groups, and interviews, and researchers specifically measured traumatic stress responses in children and parents with varying disease-containment experiences such as quarantine and isolation.
The results showed that nearly one-third of the children who experienced isolation or quarantine demonstrated post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms and showed significantly higher rates of PTSD symptoms.
As a comparison, the prevalence of PTSD in the general population for children varies, but a telephone survey based on a national sample of 4023 adolescents aged 12 to 17 years indicated a lifetime prevalence of 8.1%.
Nearchou, Finiki, et al. "Exploring the Impact of COVID-19 on Mental Health Outcomes in Children and Adolescents: A Systematic Review." International Journal of
Environmental Research and Public Health, vol. 17, 2020, p. 8479.
Singh, Shweta, et al. “Impact of COVID-19 and lockdown on mental health of children and adolescents: A narrative review with recommendations.” Psychiatry Research, vol. 293, 2020, 113429.
Sprang, Ginny, and Miriam Silman. “Posttraumatic Stress Disorder in Parents and Youth
After Health-Related Disasters.” Disaster Medicine and Public Health Preparedness, vol. 7, no. 1, 2013, pp. 105-110.