Toronto: Depression and anxiety symptoms have doubled in children and adolescents when compared to pre-pandemic times, according to an alarming study.
Researchers at the University of Calgary conducted a meta-analysis, pooling together data from 29 separate studies from around the world, including 80,879 youth globally.
The findings, published in the medical journal JAMA Pediatrics, showed that an alarming percentage of children and adolescents are experiencing a global-wide mental crisis due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Estimates show that one in four youth globally are experiencing clinically elevated depression symptoms while one in five have clinically elevated anxiety symptoms," said lead author Dr Nicole Racine, a postdoctoral associate, and clinical psychologist at the varsity. More alarmingly, these symptoms are compounding over time.
The study -- which incorporates 16 studies from East Asia, four from Europe, six from North America, two from Central and South America and one from the Middle East -- also shows that older adolescents and girls are experiencing the highest levels of depression and anxiety.
"We know from other studies that rates of depression and anxiety in youth tend to ebb and flow with restrictions. When more restrictions are imposed, rates go up. Being socially isolated, kept away from their friends, their school routines, and social interactions has proven to be really hard on kids," said Dr Sheri Madigan, a Calgary varsity clinical psychologist.
Older teens in particular have missed out on significant life events such as graduations, sporting events, and various coming of age activities.
"These kids didn't imagine that when they graduated, they'd never get to say goodbye to their school, their teachers or their friends, and now they're moving on to something new, with zero closure," Racine said. "There's a grieving process associated with that."
While mental health symptoms in youth are rising, more mental health support should be put in place to help children and adolescents in this time of need.
"If we want to mitigate the sustained mental health effects of COVID-19, because of the chronic stressors our youth experienced, we have to prioritise recovery planning now. Not when the pandemic is over, but immediately. Because kids are in crisis right now," Madigan said.