Child mental health impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic

Trainee Clinical Psychologist Maddy Lykourgos writes about child mental health impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic

Ongoing changes to the lockdown restrictions have understandably proven to cause chaos and confusion for many. We’ve written about the mental health effects of the initial lockdown period, but all these months later the idea of a ‘new normal’ may not have settled and we may still be experiencing difficulties adjusting.

Schools spent months shut, giving way to a new age of home-schooling for those families that were able to. While extra time at home may have meant more quality time with the family, others may have struggled with the added pressures of juggling work, spending extensive periods of time with members of the household, extra financial burdens, all while re-learning and teaching the school curriculum.

While this has been a particularly challenging time for all, we know that children in particular can be more susceptible to the psychological effects of adversity. For our young people, it’s been months of altered routines and structure, isolation from friends and uncertainty around exams, not to mention witnessing parents suffering their own COVID-related stresses. What should we be looking out for?

Parents and caregivers have noted an increase in behavioural difficulties, both at home and at school, increased restlessness, inattention and increased trouble regulating their emotional responses. This might be more noticeable in any changes to their usual dispositions: seeking more reassurance from adults, turning inward, spending more time alone and becoming quiet. It could also manifest in the opposite way: changeable moods, shouting or throwing things. These effects are understandable after limited socialisation and reduced sensory stimulation across 2020.

Opportunities for flourishing during a vital stage of development were disrupted and younger generations instead found themselves in a monotonous lockdown with little to do, nowhere to go and no one to see.

Without access to our usual coping strategies, it is no wonder cases of anxiety, low mood and low self-esteem are evident in our younger generations. Additionally, high-stress events such as the pandemic and its consequential impact can also result in more complaints of physical health issues too. Stress puts us into a state of fight or flight where we release stress hormones, which in extended periods deplete immune responses. Watch out for otherwise unexplained headaches, colds, stomach aches or even chest pains. It could be a marker that your child is struggling to cope with the increased pressures over this year.

Now more than ever, in a time of crisis, finding new ways to cope with the events of this year is imperative, from processing traumatic events, losses and isolation to managing anxiety. The financial, physical and emotional impacts of this pandemic will differ between us, but we urge anyone that thinks their children may benefit from some added support to contact us. Our child and adolescent team of psychiatrists and psychologists specialise in assessing young people’s needs and collaborating with them and their caregivers to tailor a package of support to suit them. If you have any questions for you or your children, please do not hesitate to let us know. In the meantime, we hope you are staying well, staying connected and staying safe.

 The Blue Tree Clinic remains open and working remotely, in line with current government guidance, to ensure the safety of our clients. Given the difficulties we are all facing, here at The Blue Tree Clinic we are dedicated to continue making therapy and support as accessible as possible for whoever finds themself in need. Please speak to a member of our therapy or psychiatric team today.