School Closures May Have Long-Term Impact On Children’s Mental Health

Posted: 20th January 2022

Lockdowns and school closures have had an adverse impact on both children’s mental and physical health, according to a new study.

And there are indications that school closures will have long-term consequences for children adversely affected by the resulting social isolation.

Concern over the effect on mental health has run parallel to fears over learning loss as millions of children were unable to go to school in the early stages of the pandemic.

Those fears now appear to have been well-founded, with publication of a major study looking into the impact of lockdowns and school closures on children and adolescents.

Researchers examined the findings of 36 studies carried out in 11 countries around the world, involving around 80,000 children and 18,000 parents, to assess the effect of lockdowns and school closures in the initial phase of the pandemic.

A number of studies recorded increased levels of anxiety and depression, including a U.K. study that found almost half of teenage girls and six in 10 teenage boys showed symptoms of anxiety and one in five of both sexes reported symptoms of depression.

Levels of anxiety and depression increased most in those who reported poor pre-pandemic connections with family and friends, according to the study, led by researchers at Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health in London and published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics.

Similar findings were reported in studies of adolescents in Canada, Bangladesh and Brazil.

“There was consistency in findings across studies, particularly for mental health, with almost all studies documenting poorer mental health and well-being,” researchers said.

A study in China found greater symptoms of anxiety among teens in Wuhan, the presumed source of the outbreak and a city that experienced a prolonged lockdown, than in other cities.

A quarter of children and adolescents in studies in both China and the U.K. developed significant sleeping difficulties during initial lockdowns, although the study found that school closures may have given some teenagers the chance to have a more natural sleep pattern.

 

While the study was not able to distinguish between the effects of different elements of lockdowns, researchers said there were good reasons to believe school closures and the resulting reduction in social contact with peers and teachers “contributed to a considerable proportion” of the impact on mental health.

“School closure is responsible for a large proportion of the social mixing reductions among children and adolescents seen during lockdown and therefore may have contributed to a high proportion of the harms resulting from reduced social mixing,” they said.

Studies from England and Japan found so significant increase in suicide rates during periods of lockdown, but there was evidence that the effects of social isolation may outlast the pandemic.

“Data suggest that distress associated with social isolation may persist in the longer term,” the study found, with potential for long-term consequences “in those distressed by lockdowns including school closures.”

The team, which also involved researchers in Rome, New York and Glasgow, also found evidence of the impact of school closures on children’s physical health.

Studies in the U.S., Scotland, India, Spain and Italy found a decrease in physical activity of up to 64%, while several studies found an increase in screen time and social media use, although some of the former may also be the result of online learning.

Levels of consumption, particularly of unhealthy food, rose, according to studies in India, Italy and Spain, and a simulation run in the U.S. estimated that closing schools for two months would lead to an 11% increase in childhood obesity.

It is clear from this study that the impact of school closures goes far deeper and may even be more prolonged than the consequences of lost education.

And while policy makers are largely focused on addressing gaps in learning, this research strongly suggests they need to address the impact of school closures not just on children’s education, but on their mental and physical health.

 

Source: Forbes

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