The Global Burden of Mental Health Problems During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Mar 26 2023


In order to provide readers with an extensive overview of the problem the authors synthesized global evidence of mental health problems experienced by children and adolescents during the COVID-19 pandemic, especially given that this time has also been recognized as a psychiatric epidemic.

The Effect of Pandemic Control Measures on Children and Adolescents

Children and adolescents are among the most vulnerable populations affected by the preventative measures used during the pandemic. The “closure of schools, leading to reduced interaction with peers, and lessened opportunities for physical activity and exploration” all contributed adversely to the welfare and mental health of this population. Some studies even found that children whose parents were frontline workers during the epidemic suffered significantly higher rates of mental health challenges. For example, in Turkey, children of health workers had significantly higher anxiety levels measured when compared to non-health workers’ children. China’s unique context during this period of time also meant that the pandemic resulted in a significant psychosocial impact on Chinese adolescents and children, with a high prevalence of anxiety, depression, sleep disorders, and post-traumatic stress reported.

The Wide Range of Mental Health Problems Experienced 

An extensive literature search was conducted as part of this umbrella overview. Included studies had to have a participant makeup that comprised 70% children or adolescents to be included in the review. 17 systematic reviews were selected for further analysis and they covered a wide range of mental health problems including psychosocial problems and psychiatric conditions. 

The COVID-19 pandemic and the stressors associated with it have resulted in a wide range of mental health problems. Evidence suggests children and adolescents are experiencing higher incidences of “anxiety, depression, psychological distress, PTSD, sleep disorders, suicidal behavior, addiction disorders, and other psychosocial problems.” The authors also identified several factors associated with mental health outcomes in this population, these included social demographic data factors, family-related factors, and social and community-related factors.

Multipronged Efforts Need to be Made to Alleviate the Mental Health Burden

The evidence suggests that multipronged efforts need to be made to alleviate immediate and future health and social consequences of this mental health burden in this population. The authors provide an extensive list of evidence-based guidelines and recommendations that could fit the mental health needs of children and adolescents in different contexts as part of the review. Here are a few:

Notable Quotes: 

“Transdisciplinary mental health research, policymaking, and practice should be emphasized to mitigate the mental health impacts of this pandemic and ensure optimal mental, physical, and social health of children and adolescents locally and globally.”

“Gender was associated with mental health outcomes as reported in several reviews. Chai et al. [43] reported the percentage of boys was a moderator of mental health outcomes across study samples. In contrast, several reviews reported girls had a higher burden of mental health problems during this pandemic.”

“Several other mental health problems were reported in multiple reviews. Cunning et al. reported that the prevalence of OCD among adolescents ranged from 44.6% to 73% causing exaggerating symptoms.”

Personal Takeaway: 

It is not surprising that the COVID-19 pandemic had and continues to have a significant impact on mental health in children and adolescents. They experienced disruptions to almost all aspects of their life with changes in lifestyle and daily behaviors that were made worse by disruptions or lack of availability of health services and supports. The authors highlight the need to continue to address the current problems and work to better prepare for future public health emergencies. —Ayla Reau

Hossain, M. M., Nesa, F., Das, J., Aggad, R., Tasnim, S., Bairwa, M., Ma, P., & Ramirez, G. (2022). Global burden of mental health problems among children and adolescents during COVID-19 pandemic: An umbrella review. Psychiatry research, 317, 114814.

You May Also Like