Identifying Depression And Anxiety In Kids During The Pandemic And Beyond
During the COVID-19 pandemic, virtually no one was immune from mental and emotional impacts. Stay-at-home orders and widespread school and business closures forced people to adjust their daily routines dramatically. While conversations about mental health were common and prevalent amongst adults, the impact that the isolation and anxiety of the pandemic had on children was less discussed.
Kids had to adapt to a brand-new way of socializing, going to school, and interacting with the world quickly and with no precedent to follow. If you have a child or work with kids regularly, you may have noticed some changes in their behavior. Read on for some considerations for identifying depression and anxiety in kids during the pandemic and in the future.
Increasing Depression in Kids
Multiple studies have found that there was a significant increase in depression and anxiety in kids during the pandemic. One study found that child and adolescent depression and anxiety increased 25.2% and 20.5%, respectively.
A survey of 3,300 high school students conducted during the pandemic found that close to 1/3 of respondents felt more unhappy and depressed than usual.
Unfortunately, even more concerning, according to CDC data, there was a 24% increase in mental health-related emergency visits for children ages 5 to 11 and a 31% increase for those ages 12 to 17 compared with 2019 emergency department visits.
Recognizing the Signs
The pandemic brought about a confusing state of the world. Kids were suddenly unable to live their lives the way they were accustomed to doing so, and this created a sense of fear, uncertainty, and anxiety. It is critical that those who interact with kids are aware of the common indicators that they might be struggling with their mental health. Symptoms vary slightly between young children and adolescents and typically include the following.
Kids often have trouble staying awake in class. However, if an unusual amount of sleeplessness is starting to occur, it may be an indication that something is wrong. Kids need sleep to grow and function properly.
According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, kids aged 6-13 need 9-12 hours of sleep per 24 hours, and teens aged 13-18 need 8-10 hours. Patients who have been affected by COVID-19 have reported a 74.8% rate of issues with sleeping as well, so make sure to pay attention to any changes.
If a child is suddenly acting out more than usual at school, it could be a sign of an emotional problem. Any significant change in regular behavior should be monitored by parents and other relevant adults. It’s perfectly normal for kids to rebel and misbehave from time to time, however, if you’ve noticed a serious change in behavior, especially if that behavior is negative, you might need to consider having your child evaluated.
Disruptive behavioral issues that may indicate a mental illness issue include:
• Defiant, oppositional behavior
• Drug/alcohol abuse
Before the pandemic, the rate of children’s depression was estimated to be between 8.5% and 11.6%. Now, these numbers have increased to one in four children reporting depression and one in five reporting anxiety. These issues are becoming more widespread, and one of the most important indicators of a problem is mood changes.
If a child is feeling sad or exhibiting unusual mood swings, talk to them. Encourage them to talk about what’s going on in their life and how they are feeling.
If your child is crying a lot, shifting from happy to sad quickly, acting irritable and annoyed frequently, or demonstrating any other unusual moodiness, they may be experiencing anxiety or depression. Additionally, strange shifts in mood may indicate other health issues, so it is critical to be aware of this in any child in your life.
Loss of Interest in Hobbies and Activities
If a child suddenly seems disinterested in a hobby or activity they used to enjoy, it may be a red flag. Make sure to talk to your child about why they are no longer interested in the activity. They may feel resistant to talking about it or respond with defensiveness. You may need to work with a depression and anxiety psychiatrist for help communicating with the child and finding the source of the problem.
All people are susceptible to depression and anxiety. The COVID-19 pandemic caused a major surge in these disorders associated with sudden, drastic changes in lifestyles, social lives, and more.
Children may not initially seem to be the most likely to be affected, but rates of child and teen depression and anxiety are rising. It is critical that adults can recognize the signs of issues and respond accordingly. That way, children can be connected with the resources they need to receive treatment and live happy, healthy lives.