How COVID-19 Has Affected Children’s Mental Health


Since it started spreading like wildfire throughout the world, COVID-19 has changed our lives in many ways. Mandatory lockdowns and restrictions, believed to be necessary for the population’s health and safety, have had many unintended consequences—including a negative impact on children’s mental health.

Although the vast majority of those who have contracted this virus are adults, the pandemic is creating severe impacts on children’s mental health and overall well-being…many of which are likely to be long-term effects. Some of these are easy to see right now; others might not be easy to uncover until years from now.

Families are struggling, so children are struggling

With stress overruling so many households, children’s mental and physical development is taking a detour. In fact, research is discovering that COVID-19-related issues are becoming biologically imprinted on children.

While the pandemic is not directly affecting most children’s immune systems it is, however, taking a toll on their health in other ways.

Across the country and throughout the world, many people’s past reality has been put on pause, and new realities have taken their place. For example, the US has seen 36 million unemployment claims since the start of the pandemic. Families are facing reduced income—and the stresses that come with it—because of job and wage cuts. For many, financial instability is also resulting in food insecurity.

Without a specific solution for their income problems, parents’ stress and anxiety is trickling down to their children. Many children feel that stress and anxiety, but do not know what to do with the feelings. They may start to feel physically ill. They might even feel responsible for the problems their families face. Because it can be so difficult for children to understand and communicate their feelings, these health concerns can be challenging to diagnose.

“We’re seeing a lot more anxiety, a lot more depressive-type symptoms,” says Amy Shriver, a pediatrician in Iowa. “And then we also have the potential in the future to see things like grieving and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder-type behaviors.”

In a recent poll, about 30% of parents said they were seeing negative changes in their child’s emotional and mental health because of coronavirus restrictions, and 14% believed their child was reaching their limits of being constrained.

Given the disruptions to children’s lives, none of this should come as a surprise

The 2019-2020 academic school year shifted to virtual classes, forcing children to stay home for months. Although this helped prevent children from contracting COVID-19, school closures have impacted children’s physical and mental states in other ways.

With limited social interaction and lack of a daily routine, children are turning to their laptops and phones as their main source of entertainment. Increased screen time, which is not considered to be healthy for children even in “normal” times, is replacing the physical activities that are crucial for healthy living.

We need to act

During this crisis it is essential for parents to be supportive of their children. For example, taking time to do fun activities together, whether it is taking a walk or playing board games, can result in significant changes to mental health and wellness.

Creating opportunities for children to take part in re-opening cities, rather than limiting them to staying home, can also be helpful for their mental, physical and emotional growth. Furthermore, seeking help from trained mental health professionals can be an effective way to fight COVID-19’s effects on children.

In these challenging times, schools, families, communities and health officials must connect and be consistent in supporting the future generation.

Seeking help from trained mental health professionals can be an effective way to fight COVID-19’s effects on children.