Studies show the pandemic has had an alarming rise in depression, anxiety, other issues in children

Children between two and 12 have reported an increase in depression, anxiety and other developmental issues during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to series of international studies.

A report from the Quebec Institute of Public Health (INSPQ) looked at 14 studies on the impacts of the health crisis on children's internalized and externalized behavioural problems.

"There may be medium to long-term effects on children's physical and mental health," the report reads. "These manifestations are closely linked to the parents' situation and the presence of numerous risk factors, both in terms of the parents' mental health and the household's situation."

The report notes children having difficulty with solitude that led to depression, anxiety and other mental health and emotional issues.

The findings were no surprise to English Parents' Committee Association President Katherine Korakakis, who said the EPCA conducted its own study that found mental health issues, such as anxiety, in children were common.

"We did get calls from parents throughout the year and emails with concerns," she said. "It's alarming."

The studies were conducted in Italy, the UK, Spain, the U.S., Brazil, Netherlands, Israel. and Hong Kong.

"There was quite a consensus between studies that external symptoms, like hyperactivity and conduct problems, and internal problems. like isolation or depression, are rising compared to pre-pandemic times," said INSPQ scientific counsellor Andreanne Melancon.

A family's home situation, the report notes, underscores the importance of focusing on families' well-being and living conditions.

"Healthy lifestyles and positive parenting practices are protective factors and should be promoted," the report reads. "It is essential to support both parents and children, while also targeting the various living environments by promoting resilience factors."

Children living in low-income and under-educated parents face more difficulties, according to the report.

The situation could, therefore, further widen the gap in social inequalities in health.

"None of that is surprising," said Korakakis. "If you're in a situation where not only is there a global pandemic, but you don't know if you'll have food to eat or there's uncertainty that you might lose your apartment — all this kind of stress, children see it and feel it. They're not immune to it."

The report was not entirely negative, as some parents noted their older children have started to adopt prosocial behaviours and attitudes, and that those children who adopted healthy lifestyle habits and caught COVID-19 developed less severe symptoms.

The report says parents' roles in their children's daily lives are directly related to their children's behaviour and health.

"Children's development unfolds according to the quality of their various living environments," the report reads.

"A favourable environment, stimulating and supportive environment encourages children to reach their full potential. On the contrary, a hostile and unstable environment, in which there are fewer resources, increases the risk of presenting problems or difficulties in the short, medium and long term."

The EPCA has held workshops dealing with pandemic stress for parents and offers a number of resources on its website. 

Korakakis said parents spoke about being in nature, avoiding screentime as much as possible, and playing games as a family as ways some have found to improve the dynamic.

If parents notice a child is struggling, Korakakis added, it's important to let school staff know about the situation. 

"If the parents do things like maintain their routines for their children, answer their questions according to the age of the children - what they're able to understand. These kinds of things can help," said Melancon.