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COVID-19 and Children’s Mental Health: Implications for Pandemic Recovery

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Background: The COVID-19 pandemic and its associated public health restrictions caused profound losses for children. To determine the impact on children’s mental health, we conducted a systematic review of high-quality studies.

Methods: We identified eight studies on the impact of COVID-19 on children’s mental health that used representative samples and quantitative mental health measures both before and during the pandemic.

Results: Among the three studies that assessed clinically meaningful concerns, all found that significantly more children likely met criteria for a mental disorder or experienced clinically meaningful emotional concerns during the pandemic. Among the seven studies that assessed symptoms, multiple studies found anxiety and depressive symptoms increased. Other findings included increases in emotional problems, mental distress and anger. In contrast, studies found no change or improvements in behavioural problems and substance use.

Conclusions: The COVID-19 pandemic has increased children’s needs for mental health treatments during a time of pre-existing service shortfalls in many countries, including Canada. Addressing these unmet mental health needs by making additional investments to children’s mental health is an imperative.
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