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The prevalence of depressive symptoms in young children rose significantly during the UK lockdown in response to the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic. The research is concentrated in one region of England and has been published online in the Archives of Disease in Childhood.
The effect size was medium to large, suggesting the findings that have an impact on future partial or full school closings suggest the researchers.
Social distancing and school closings are believed to have severely impacted children’s mental health during the lengthy lockdown across the UK earlier this year.
There is little evidence of this, however, mainly because it is difficult to find good baseline data for the same children that were collected before the first lockdown on March 23.
The researchers got around this by using data from children in eastern England that were part of the Resilience in Education and Development (RED) study.
During the lockdown, 168 of their parents – representing 29% of the total sample – conducted online validated mental health assessments to assess their children’s emotional wellbeing, anxiety, and depression.
These ratings were then compared to baseline data collected about 18 months earlier, which included a mix of parent, teacher, and child-rated mental health interventions.
There were no significant changes in anxiety levels or emotional well-being during lockdown compared to the initial baseline assessment.
However, a significant increase in depressive symptoms of 0.74 was observed, the effect size of which was medium to large. Simply put, this means that, on average, there was a 70% chance that a child’s depressive symptoms would worsen during lockdown.
These results hold true even after considering potentially influential factors such as age, gender, and socioeconomic status, although larger numbers of children are required to confirm this, the researchers say.
To find out if changes during lockdown might have been caused by certain elements within the Depression Scale, the researchers looked at changes in the responses to each individual question on the Mental Health Scale.
This resulted in a significant increase in 4 out of 5 of the depression questions during lockdown related to lethargy, difficulty enjoying activities, and feelings of sadness or emptiness.
This is an observational study; the numbers are relatively small; and only from an area of England, so may not be more common, the researchers warn.
However, they point out: “The background is that children’s mental health appears to be deteriorating in successive cohorts and that resources for child and adolescent mental health services were already tight before the lockdown.
“Current results suggest that lockdown measures are likely to make this worse, particularly with an increase in symptoms of depression in children, which has been relatively uncommon in children of this age.”
They add, “Our findings underscore the need to incorporate the potential impact of lockdown on child mental health into planning the ongoing response to the global pandemic and its recovery.”
Dr. Karen Street is a pediatric advisor and mental health director at the Royal College of Pediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH), which co-owns the magazine with BMJ.
She commented, “This study reports what many pediatricians have observed – while children rarely get COVID-19, they have been severely affected by measures taken to reduce the transmission of the virus.
She added: “The RCPCH welcomes the government’s continued commitment to keep schools open. It would also be good if extra-curricular activities and opportunities for children and youth returned as soon as possible.
“While we hope that for many children a return to normal will mean a ‘recovery’ in their emotional well-being, we also know that the socio-economic effects of lockdown will last for many years for many families and that this will have secondary negative effects the mental health of children.
“Persistent mental health problems in childhood and adolescence are linked to poor educational, employment, and long-term physical and mental health outcomes. Therefore, it is important that adequate investment in health, education, and the voluntary sector is made to keep children’s mental health like we support recover from the pandemic. ”
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Longitudinal Increase in Depression Symptoms in Children During COVID-19 Lockdown, Archives of Disease in Childhood (2020). DOI: 10.1136 / archdischild-2020-320372 Provided by the British Medical Journal
Quote: A sharp rise in depressive symptoms in 7-12 year olds during lockdown in the UK (2020, December 8), accessed December 8, 2020 from https://medicalxpress.com/news/2020-12-steep-depressive -symptoms-year. html
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