Covid-19: the underestimated impact of the pandemic on the mental health of young people and children – 26/08/2021

Research carried out in Northern Ireland states that ‘insufficient attention’ was given to how children and young people would be affected by the pandemic.

The Covid-19 pandemic and the restrictions imposed by it had “a strong impact” on children and young people.

This is shown in a report by the Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Youth (NICCY), Koulla Yiasouma, based on a survey conducted in the country.

More than half (52%) of 16-year-olds who participated in the survey felt their mental and emotional health deteriorated during the pandemic.

And, according to the report, “insufficient attention” was paid to how the lives of children and young people would be affected.

Aspects taken into account in the report include education, physical and mental health and well-being.

But the document reminds that some “restrictive measures” were necessary “to protect the population from the spread of the virus”.

“The long-term impact of the pandemic on the mental health of children and youth has the potential to be significant, especially if appropriate support and intervention are not provided,” he warns.

The report, entitled A New and Better Normal (a New and Better Normal, in free translation) also highlights that many of the existing inequalities have increased.

The findings are based on responses from 4,385 young people through questionnaires and focus groups.

Some echo concerns raised earlier elsewhere.

A report by the British National Children’s Bureau had previously said that families of children with special educational needs and disabilities felt “forgotten” in the response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Many essential therapies and services on which they depended were suspended and not fully returned.

The Northern Ireland report draws attention, in turn, to the widespread suspension of services and its effects on children.

Many face-to-face services in the early years of life for children ages 0-3 and their families have been discontinued.

“The risk of increased emotional or behavioral problems in younger children due to the pandemic is a concern,” says Koulla Yiasouma in her report.

“Healthcare professionals were relocated to provide Covid-19-related care and services, resulting in a reduction in the number of health assessments and home visits.”

“Reductions in consultations, in addition to restrictions on access to other early childhood services, have removed an important support system for fathers, particularly first-time mothers and those from disadvantaged groups.”

More than a quarter (27%) of the young people surveyed in the survey — also said they were unable to “get medical treatment during the pandemic for a health problem not related to the coronavirus”.

A young man who participated in the focus groups lost his mother during the pandemic and found it difficult to get support to cope with grief.

“Yes [procurei apoio para o luto], but there’s a waiting list and my guess is it’s as long as the Amazon River,” he told the report’s authors.

External visits to young people at the Juvenile Justice Center, including family visits, were also prohibited for some periods.

“The existing barriers faced by children with disabilities or complex health needs in accessing support and services significantly worsened during the pandemic,” the report notes.

In a follow-up study carried out by scholars at Queen’s University Belfast, Northern Ireland, on behalf of NICCY, several experts also expressed serious concerns regarding the safety of children and young people during the pandemic.

Related concerns had previously been raised by the Safeguarding Board of Northern Ireland.

‘Guilty for spreading the virus’

Young people also “felt negatively stereotyped and accused of spreading the virus,” according to the report.

The text states that 585 notifications were issued by the police to under-18s for violations of coronavirus health protection regulations in 2020-21.

“Although media stories suggested that these violations were common, the vast majority of children and youth strictly adhered to the regulations and guidelines issued,” the report clarifies.

“Nevertheless, children and young people say they felt demonized and discriminated against by adults when they were in public, as restrictions were eased.”

“Many felt judged and scapegoat when meeting friends in public spaces.”

Several children and young people also said they felt “lonely and trapped” during the lockdowns and because of the restrictions.

“It is clear from the children and young people we interact with through questionnaires and focus groups how important friendships and relationship development are throughout childhood and adolescence, and how deeply they felt the restrictions in their social interactions,” adds the text.

“The survey data show that the decline in play, recreational and leisure activities has had a devastating impact on the physical health and emotional well-being of many children.”

The NICCY report states that every effort must be made to ensure that school activities such as sports, music, clubs and theater can be carried out.

The vast majority of children were also out of school, depending on remote learning, from March to June 2020 and again from January to Easter 2021.

The report highlights that this had an impact especially on children from low-income families.

‘Poor children are particularly affected’

“Children in poverty were identified as being particularly affected by the shift to online education, as they were more likely not to have access to an appropriate digital device or online access,” the report says.

“They were also more likely to live in accommodations that didn’t have adequate indoor or outdoor space to study and engage in recreational activities during the lockdown.”

“The continued closure of schools has undoubtedly exacerbated educational inequalities that were well documented before the pandemic.”

The survey conducted for the NICCY report showed that 41% of seventh-year respondents (10-11 years) and 52% of 16-year-olds felt that their mental and emotional health had deteriorated during the pandemic.

A large study carried out before the pandemic had already revealed that anxiety and depression were 25% more common in children and young people in Northern Ireland compared to other parts of the UK.

The NICCY report states that the government of Northern Ireland has acted faster in helping families entitled to free school lunches than other governments in the UK.

However, this was a rare positive observation.

“As we move out of the pandemic, more children and young people and their families are living in poverty, waiting lists for health are unacceptably long, many have had their education undermined due to lack of access to digital equipment, children in shelters and other groups vulnerable people have not received the support they need,” the report says.

The document includes a series of recommendations and states that babies, children and young people should be prioritized in the Northern Ireland government’s plan for the recovery of Covid-19.

Meanwhile in Brazil…

In Brazil, the pandemic has also accentuated inequalities in education.

A year after the start of the pandemic, many students still do not have access to the internet or devices to study online.

While networks and students with more structure advanced (even if with setbacks) in remote education, a portion of students and from poorer places were unable to stay connected and lost both content and enthusiasm for studies.

At the same time, the percentage of young students seeking employment has grown as a result of the economic crisis aggravated by the pandemic — which fuels the concern that the lack of exclusive dedication to studies may reduce access to higher education.

A study showed that young people who lost school content between 2020 and 2021 may have a loss of future income that, if added together, could exceed R$700 billion — reaching R$1.5 trillion if nothing is done to change this trajectory .