COVID-19 School Closures Harmed Children’s Mental Health

Photo Source: Bruce Matsunaga/Creative CommonsThere has been much conjecture about possible detrimental long-term consequences of school closures on young children and adolescents, but now a new study published in the journal Scientific Reports provides convincing evidence that the mental health of school children was impaired by school closures during the pandemic.

The study surveyed 907 adolescents and their parents in Germany between May and June of 2020, during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. Depression and psychosomatic symptoms were evaluated, in addition to other aspects of mental health. Telephone call volume to German youth crisis helplines was also analyzed. Both sets of data found higher depression and psychosomatic symptoms, particularly among boys, younger children, and adolescents, especially those living in homes with limited space.

[Photo Credit: Bruce Matsunaga, Creative Commons]

The research suggests that increased strains on families forced to adapt to new work, school, and family life situations during the pandemic school closures promoted the increase in mental health problems in school children.

Worldwide, at least 13 percent of young people between the ages of 10 and 19 now have diagnosed mental health disorders, and the prevalence of depression and anaxiety symptoms in this age group during COVID-19 have doubled. Whether this alarming mental health deterioration during this period is caused by school closures or other factors is unclear. This new study seeks to determine if school closures during the pandemic are responsible for the alarming increase in children struggling with mental health issues during the pandemic period.

The study compared data on adolescents’ mental health taken from a German survey, with other data on school closures throughout the country. The data showed that school closures were strongly linked with increased youth mental health problems. The longer adolescents were kept home from school, the more their mental health was impaired.

Not all children suffered the effects equally. Young children suffered the most from the strains caused by school closures. Boys coped much worse with school closures than girls. The effects were strongest in school-aged children living in homes that had limited living space. That factor supports the conclusion that family living stresses promoted the decline in mental health.

Disrupting daily routine and social interactions undermines the mental health of school children, the researchers conclude. Given the obvious importance of wholesome daily routine in family life and the value of healthy social interactions in nurturing the well-being of children, it is not surprising, in retrospect, that children’s mental health suffered when their schools were closed for prolonged periods and their family life was uprooted.

COVID-19 is not the first, nor will it be the last, serious contagious disease sweeping the globe. These new findings will be valuable in deciding how best to manage such outbreaks in the future.

*First published in Psychology Today

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