Illustration from Children’s Experiences of the Pandemic via the Child Art Project conducted by Dr. Nikki Martyn

“Increasingly, research confirms the negative effects of COVID-19 safety measures on the mental health of children and adolescents.15 Saunders and colleagues6 call for an urgent response to the increasing sustained demand for mental health services inclusive of substance use and developmental disorders. The authors’ population-based cross-sectional study used linked administrative and health data to examine changes in utilization of physician-provided mental health services for 2.5 million children and adolescents aged 3 to 17 years in Ontario, Canada. From March 2020 through February 2021, the authors found a rapid and sustained 10% increase in outpatient mental health service utilization by children and adolescents compared with prior rates. Similar trends were not observed for acute mental health service utilization for the same period, except for girls. The current study found striking sex differences with substantially higher rates of utilization observed for acute inpatient psychiatric hospitalization and outpatient mental health services for school-aged and adolescent girls.

Illustration from Children’s Experiences of the Pandemic via the Child Art Project conducted by Dr. Nikki Martyn

Interventions for common mental health, substance use, and developmental disorders can be delivered in community schools and primary care practices to address mild to moderate symptoms before they worsen. Training non–mental health clinicians to assess and treat common mental health conditions virtually is critical for expanding access to services,23 thereby creating collaborative-care models to address children’s mental health needs in settings with fewer resources. Studies to determine which populations or diagnostic groups will benefit most from virtual or hybrid (virtual and in-person) visits and measurement of quality and outcomes will inform future directions.

Illustration from Children’s Experiences of the Pandemic via the Child Art Project conducted by Dr. Nikki Martyn

The immediate effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on children and adolescents has been significant, but the long-term effect will be more devastating without urgent action. Globally, 2.2 billion children have been or will be directly or indirectly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and its sequelae. Saunders and colleagues6 and other researchers have sounded the alarm. We cannot wait to respond to the distress and escalating mental health and suicide crisis. Prioritizing children’s and adolescents’ mental health demands a transformational societal and systems solution that protects their future.”

Sounding the Alarm for Children’s Mental Health During the COVID-19 Pandemic via JAMA Pediatrics.

Learn more on this topic:

‘This is too much’: Art shows children’s struggles during pandemic, says researcher via CTV news.

Children’s Experiences of the Pandemic via the Child Art Project by Dr. Nikki Martyn, Program Head of Early Childhood Studies at the University of Guelph-Humber and Adjunct Professor in Human Relations and Nutrition at the University of Guelph.

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