University of Windsor psychology professor Lance Rappaport is part of a team who's received a SSHRC Insight Development Grant.UWindsor psychology professor Lance Rappaport has new provincial funding to expand his research into how the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting the mental health of area children.

Pandemic research into children’s mental health gets provincial funding boost

The province is helping fund UWindsor research into how the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting the mental health of children in Windsor and Essex County.

Psychology professor Lance Rappaport is leading an online study of children aged nine to 13. The survey, which delves into children’s daily lives to identify symptoms of anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress, recently received nearly $20,000 in funding from the province of Ontario.

“Beyond their immediate medical impact, crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic pose substantial risk of widespread mental health consequences to which children are especially vulnerable,” said Dr. Rappaport.

“Ultimately, the study will inform guidelines for the assessment and identification of children at risk for long-term psychological harm and inform the development of resources to help mitigate the urgent risk to children’s psychological and psychiatric well-being.”

Rappaport’s project is one of eight COVID-related projects being funded by the province. Ontario is investing $2.9 million to support research related to the pandemic. Other funded projects include research into the long-term health effects of the virus, the development of an app to better manage the care of patients, and research into the effectiveness of wearing masks to block the virus. 

Rappaport’s survey began in June with funding from the University of Windsor and the WE-Spark Health Institute, a partnership between the university, Windsor Regional Hospital, Hotel-Dieu Grace Healthcare and St. Clair College. There are currently 190 participants responding to one survey per month for six months until December, with a follow-up survey in March. Provincial funding will support expanding the study to 400 families across Southwestern Ontario.

Early results from the survey indicate children are experiencing broad psychological distress compared to their well-being before the pandemic hit Canada.

“Children and parents reported higher anxiety and depressive symptoms, and parents reported higher irritability, compared to large samples of children assessed prior to the pandemic,” Rappaport said.

“Children’s perception that social support is available from family and friends was associated with lower symptoms of generalized anxiety, depression, irritability, and post-traumatic stress disorder.”

Rappaport said a “second crisis” of COVID-19 may come in the form of psychological fallout.

“Beyond the immediate impact of the virus itself, the global pandemic poses significant risks to public mental health that will likely persist long after the pandemic has subsided.”

—Sarah Sacheli