Lance RappaportProfessor Lance Rappaport led one of Canada's first studies on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the mental health of children.

Pandemic making broad impact on children’s mental health, researchers find

Irritability, anxiety, and depression are among the symptoms reported by children in a new study that documents the pervasive impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on children’s mental health. Led by UWindsor psychology professor Lance Rappaport, a team of researchers surveyed children aged 8 to 13 from 190 families in the Windsor-Essex region and their parents or guardians.

“The first goal was to establish a baseline to measure the acute effect of the pandemic,” said Dr. Rappaport, director of the Development and Etiology of Anxiety and Related conditions (DEAR) Lab.

“We then focused on establishing whether the impact on children was limited to PTSD-related symptoms consistent with trauma or included broader impacts consistent with chronic stress,” he said. “Understanding the exact effect of the pandemic allows us to now design new treatments and tailor existing services to best meet children’s specific, individual needs.”

The study also explored whether children’s belief that social support is available from family and friends mitigated the impact of the pandemic on their distress.

The resulting article, published in the Journal of the Canadian Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, is one of the first on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the mental health of children in Canada.

Its authors hope it will inform clinical assessment and treatments, as well as the development and deployment of psychosocial resources to support children.

“Since the beginning of the pandemic, there was an urgent need for data to inform public policy on education and social services for children,” Rappaport said. “For example, resources to aid children’s recovery from the pandemic may benefit from considering broad psychological effects beyond trauma or loss.

“Similarly, our results demonstrate the profound, long-term stress that the pandemic may produce for children and the variety of ways that children may be affected. Fortunately, this research and others like it across Canada and internationally are underway to inform new treatment strategies and to develop resources to help children recover.”

Besides Rappaport, the research team includes doctoral candidate Alexandra Mactavish, undergraduate psychology student Carli Mastronardi, UWindsor professors Rosanne Menna and Kimberley A. Babb, Marco Battaglia from the University of Toronto and the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, and psychiatry professor Ananda B. Amstadter of Virginia Commonwealth University.

Read their paper, “Children’s Mental Health in Southwestern Ontario during Summer 2020 of the COVID-19 Pandemic.”