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Mental Health, COVID, and the Effect on Children

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and here at Woodruff Family Law Group, we are cognizant that the ongoing pandemic has caused much harm to our collective mental health. The school closures and loneliness associated with social distancing are major factors. A remarkable Harvard study following 224 children found that 66% of the children were showing clinical signs of depression or anxiety. Similar studies in Europe and Asia also show the same trend: COVID-19 likely contributes to rising depression and anxiety rates. It is an alarming trend that may not be visible on the surface.

Social interaction and a sense of community play a role in the ongoing development of children’s brains. As schools and extracurriculars and in-person hobbies shut down, it created a void in that area of development. Thankfully, many have learned to cope and feel comfortable with virtual interactions. However, a whole generation of children will be forever impacted by a year of lockdown. Mental health effects can be insidious. While it is uncertain what latent effects the pandemic may have, most experts agree that it will be profound and may not manifest until years later.

But the rising levels of anxiety may go beyond just the lack of interaction. Older children are conscious of worldly events, and the news has not been pleasant. Daily broadcasts, tweets, and Facebook posts consistently remind us that jobs are scarce, the economy is on the precipice of recession, and millions are dying from disease. It must have a profound impact on a teen sitting at home, watching as the news unveils a bleak future that they are expected to enter soon. The pandemic has only compounded those bleak feelings because there may not be an adequate escape from the dystopian news cycle. It can be especially bad for those directly affected by the pandemic. Having family or friends that have suffered through COVID or a parent that has been laid off and is now experiencing financial issues would add a huge amount of stress to the adolescent brain.

The first step is to recognize the changes in behavior and mood. Then seek help. Mental health has always carried an undeserved stigma. But it is time to shatter that stigma and have the conversations with your children that could improve their wellbeing. There is no guarantee that it will be easy or comfortable – but it is important.