Students And Parents Worry More About Covid-19 Than Missing In-Person School

A new survey shows children have been resilient despite the mental health challenges of the … [+]

Parents and children worry more about the coronavirus than the academic and emotional side effects of public health restrictions, according to a survey released Wednesday that showed children have been largely resilient despite the pandemic’s toll on their mental health.

Nearly one-third of parents said that their child’s emotional health was worse than before the COVID-19 outbreak, and six in 10 said they had struggled with mental health in the last month, according to the Jed Foundation, a mental health nonprofit which surveyed about 2,000 parents of children aged 2 to 18. During the survey, which was conducted in September and October, two-thirds of parents said their children were attending school virtually either all or some of the time, and three quarters of families were living under some form of pandemic restrictions on businesses and gatherings.

Some children were more likely to face challenges than others. Among the nearly half of families with a parent who lost their job or had their hours or pay cut, nearly three in four children had mental health issues, compared to just under half of other children. A similar disparity existed between children in families who knew someone who had Covid-19 and those in families who did not. Three in four parents said they tried to comfort their children about the pandemic in the week before. Of the 900 teenagers who also took the survey, half had dealt with mental or emotional health issues in the last month, including anxiety, loneliness, or trouble concentrating. Children ages 2-4 and those 16-18 were less likely to have mental or emotional health issues than those ages 5-15, according to the survey.

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“Especially for teenagers, the isolation is impactful because of where they are developmentally,” said Sara Gorman, the head of research at the Jed Foundation. “They’re learning to be social creatures. To suddenly cut that off is very disruptive and very jarring.”

It is too soon to know how the pandemic will affect a child’s long-term mental health. Many people feel anxiety and stress after a difficult time like a pandemic, but those feelings go away for most, said Gorman. Only a very small share of people will have long-term mental health problems such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. “With kids probably going back to school full-time soon,” she says, the time away from normalcy will “hopefully [have been] a short enough period that it doesn’t do lasting damage.” For children who may come to have thoughts of suicide, it will probably happen some time later, she says. There is a lag time of about a year between when a traumatic event happens and when people start processing the trauma and have thoughts of suicide. “It’s going to be a while before we know the effects,” says Gorman. Collecting and analyzing the data also add time to the process of learning trends in the suicide rate.

Fortunately, there are signs that children are faring well considering everything that’s up against them. While 31% of parents say their child’s mental health had worsened during the pandemic, 16% said they were doing better than before, and 53% said their mental health was the same. “There was more resilience there than we expected,” said Gorman. In future research, she hopes to learn what teenagers are doing to stay resilient so the foundation can apply those lessons in its work, which focuses on suicide prevention.

One sign of resilience is what parents and teenagers said they were most worried about. More parents were worried about their child contracting Covid-19 from attending school in person (53%) than were “worried about their child’s emotional wellbeing if school’s not open for full-time instruction” (36%), according to the survey. More parents were also worried about the pandemic continuing and about people getting the virus than about their child falling behind academically or being unready emotionally for the upcoming school year. Teenagers were even less worried. Just under half were worried about their emotional readiness for the next school year, and four in 10 were worried about their mental and physical health. Meanwhile, seven in 10 teenagers were worried about the pandemic continuing and more than six in 10 worried about people getting the virus.

At first, Gorman was surprised to learn that teenagers were more concerned about people getting the virus than the pandemic’s impact on their lives. The survey is “a good reminder,” she said, that teenagers pay attention and care about larger issues and how they affect people other than themselves. “What’s going on in the world affects them,” she said.

I am a reporter in New York covering mental health, public health, and the things that affect each of them, especially the economy and public policy. My reporting has

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