A new study from clinical psychologists at the University of Calgary, Canada, claims that depression and anxiety have doubled among the young as a result of the pandemic, and warns that help is needed.

Perhaps as many as 1 in 4 young people worldwide are suffering from depression and anxiety as a result of the pandemic, according to a new study by psychologists at the University of Calgary. These findings, the researchers believe, amount to nothing less than a global mental-health crisis, which urgent help is needed to address.

The Covid-19 Pandemic, Mental Health and Depression

The study is a meta-analysis, meaning that it pools data from other studies that have already been carried out. In this case, 29 separate studies (16 from East Asia, four from Europe, six from North America, two from Latin America and one from the Middle East) were pooled from around the world, including 80,879 youth. The new findings show that depression and anxiety symptoms have doubled in children and adolescents since before the pandemic.

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The study also reveals that older adolescents and girls, in particular, are experiencing the highest levels of depression and anxiety.

“Estimates show that one in four youth globally are experiencing clinically elevated depression symptoms while one in five have clinically elevated anxiety symptoms,” says Dr. Nicole Racine, PhD, lead author of the paper.

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“We know from other studies that rates of depression and anxiety in youth tend to ebb and flow with restrictions,” adds Dr. Sheri Madigan, PhD, co-author of the paper. “When more restrictions are imposed, rates go up. Being socially isolated, kept away from their friends, their school routines, and social interactions has proven to be really hard on kids.

“When COVID-19 started, most people thought it would be difficult at the outset but that kids would be better over time, as they adjusted and got back to school. But when the pandemic persisted, youth missed a lot of milestones in their lives. It went on for well over a year and for young people that’s a really substantial period of their lives.”

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For many young people, that loss of milestones has had a serious impact. “Once you enter adolescence you begin differentiating from your family members and your peers can actually become your most important source of social support,” says Racine. “That support was greatly reduced, and in some cases absent altogether, during the pandemic.”

Older teens, in particular, have missed out on graduations, sporting events and various other coming-of-age activities that can’t be repeated. “These kids didn’t imagine that when they graduated, they’d never get to say goodbye to their school, their teachers or their friends, and now they’re moving on to something new, with zero closure,” says Racine. Such loss may even involve a kind of “grieving process.”

The researchers admit that they don’t know whether the mental-health effects will linger, or whether the children and adolescents will simply ‘bounce back’ to the way they were before. Their best guess is that some will bounce back while others, especially those who had pre-existing mental-health conditions before the pandemic, are unlikely to.

At present, though, it’s clear enough that the problems are compounding. “We’re continuing to see compounding effects of the pandemic,” Madigan says. “It’s disjointing for kids because they can’t predict what their environment is going to look like, and we know when their world lacks predictability and controllability, their mental suffers.”

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The study makes a number of recommendations, including that more mental-health support should be offered to help children and adolescents at the present.

“Long before the pandemic we had a youth mental health system that was stretched and lacking resources,” says Racine. “A potential doubling of mental health difficulties will overwhelm that system without a significant increase in resources.”

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Madigan agrees and adds: “If we want to mitigate the sustained mental health effects of COVID-19, because of the chronic stressors our youth experienced, we have to prioritize recovery planning now. Not when the pandemic is over, but immediately. Because kids are in crisis right now.”

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