UNITED STATES — Children have been drastically impacted by COVID-19 and will continue to for years to come. As the delta variant becomes more prominent, worries increase about mental health among children.
For mother Sydney Futrell, she worries about her son, 7-year-old Solomon, for not having the social interaction kids need during the pandemic.
“He did remote learning for the whole year, so even after a lot of kids did go back to school he stayed at home," Futrell said. “I’m just hoping that even though he’s had these disruptions in his life and his ability to make meaningful friendships in a school setting, it won’t negatively impact his future.”
But, unfortunately, she knows much of it is out of her control.
“So, it’s scary because I don’t have any way of predicting that or any way of controlling it. The virus has taken so much control," Futrell said.
Jenna Glover, a child clinical psychologist, says those fears are completely valid for parents to be having.
“For our adolescents, it’s the time where they are trying to figure out who they are and what their identity is, and we do that in large part in our relationships with others," Glover said. “And they’ve really lost the opportunity to have those in-face interactions that just can’t happen when you’re on a screen. Those side conversations that happen spontaneously, where you learn to solve problems and deal with conflict and make connections with other people.”
She says the numbers of those who need help have only increased.
“We’ve seen double, triple the amount of patients seeking services than pre-pandemic times, and I think that holds across the nation," Glover said.
And those current rates could have continued consequences in the future.
“The current state of how things are there’s not enough structure, there's not enough people in our workforce to address the needs that are going to continue to grow, and that is incredibly concerning," Glover said.
The Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago recently polled 1,000 parents across the country. The poll found 71% believe the pandemic has taken a toll on their child’s mental health, 69% say the pandemic is the worst thing to happen to their child, and 67% wish they’d been more vigilant about their child’s mental health from the beginning.
“There are two to three times higher rates of depression in our youth right now, if those go untreated, they are more likely to go on and develop chronic mental health problems when they are adults," Glover said.
When Glover thinks back to her childhood, it’s an extremely different one than Solomon is having.
“Life has just looked pretty isolated, but he’s very conscience. He knows to mask up. He understands social distancing and handwashing and how to keep himself and his relatives safe, and he’s aware of the risks and kind of how the virus transmits," Futrell said.
His responsibilities are much bigger than any 7-year-old should have to deal with.
“He’s experiencing life just as a member of a family unit 24/7, as opposed to being an independent young kid out there in the world kind of navigating some things on his own," Futrell said.
These children have fears no other generations can relate to.
“One of the kids that I work with said just this last week, said, 'When I am hanging out with my friends now, I don’t really even know how to interact with them or talk to them anymore and it feels so unusual to be in person with people,'" Glover recalled.
“He cried a little bit this morning because we are considering keeping him home for another year. He has asthma," Futrell said of her son. “He was scared, and this was overwhelming.”
As the unknowns continue and new variants become more prevalent, it’s crucial to be in touch with the mental health and well-being of your child.