Monday, May 16, 2022

Not as good as we want, not as bad as we’ve heard: Teen mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic

Let’s start with the obvious. Canadian youth are facing disruptions in their lives like few others in recent history. And the current school year hasn’t started in the direction we had hoped, with fluctuating COVID-19 numbers, the uncertainty of school safety, and the delta version.

Headlines declare that isolation has led to youth mental health issues and children’s mental health is being badly damaged by the pandemic. But are youth being affected as negatively as the headlines would have us believe? Do we really have the data – past or present – to make such a declaration? What do we know about Canadian youth and their work during the global pandemic?

data past and present

Finding reliable pre-pandemic data on Canadian youth mental health is harder than you might think. For decades, we relied on studies such as the 1987 Ontario Child Health Study and the finding that one in five young people had psychiatric disorders – a widespread statistic still widely reported today. At that time 18.1 percent of children aged four to 16 were experiencing one or more disorders.

Go back nearly 30 years to the 2014 Ontario Child Health Study and the prevalence numbers of emotional and behavioral disorders are strikingly similar. Based on parent-report and self-report, the prevalence of “any disorder” for youth aged 12-17 is 18.2 percent and 21.8 percent, respectively. Although limited to a single province, and not ruling out the experience of those children with clinical mental disorders (as described in the DSM-V), the available peer-reviewed pre-epidemic data hardly suggest that psychotic There has been a dramatic increase in the number of disorders for Canadian youth.

Canadian youth are facing life disruptions like few others in recent history.
(pixabay)

Now, don’t get me wrong; I share in dissatisfaction with the number of Canadian youth facing mental disorders and their lack of access to services. But as a registered psychologist and researcher for more than 25 years, I have always thought that the one in five statistic fails to capture the considerable disparities inherent in the prevalence rates of youth with mental disorders. For example, a mild specific learning disorder and childhood-onset schizophrenia are not clinically comparable either through functional impairment or because of the intensity of the intervention required.

Contributing to confusion about prevalence, parental or self-report scales often used in survey research reduce complex mental disorders to non-specific, global ratings or a screening checklist of symptoms that need to be diagnosed. is considered wrong. Summary reports may cite the results of a comprehensive rating of youth mental health, and even some peer-reviewed publications equate single-item questions such as “How’s your child’s overall mood?” With diagnoses such as depression and anxiety. Such studies contribute to the widespread inflammatory rhetoric in press reports of youth mental health.

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Measuring the impact of COVID-19

Considering this brief historical context, it becomes even more difficult to estimate the measured impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on youth mental health. Individual and meta-analysis studies are beginning to appear in large numbers, and although helpful and informative, many are pre-print (not peer-reviewed), very few use Canadian samples and many longitudinally before and during COVID-19. Do not use comparison samples. .

Girl with face in hands.
More young people reported stress, anxiety and sadness during the pandemic.
(pixabay)

There are virtually no peer-reviewed studies that publish reliable estimates of pre-COVID-19 youth mental health and use clinically validated measures to do so. However, some notable exceptions include a study with Quebec and Ontario adolescents and a study with young adults in Quebec, both of which compared pre-COVID estimates for anxiety and depression during COVID-19. Only a modest increase was found in mental disorders such as depression.

Our COVID-19 Student Wellness and Resilience Study of more than 1,500 Alberta students aged 12-18 during the past school year confirms and adds to these recent Canadian studies. Students from multiple school divisions completed an online survey at different times (September and December 2020, March and June 2021) about COVID-19 concerns, their stress levels, behavior and adaptive functioning and resilience.

When schools reopened in September 2020, students working in these areas were generally found to be below the threshold of any clinical concern or risk. In short, the youth was doing fine, but we wondered how this might turn into the school year.

Compared to the late school year, our Wave 4 data (June 2021) indicates the percentage of students who self-reported their COVID-19 stress responses in the “above clinical cut-off” range, Which increased from 23.5 to 29.9 percent. The percentage of students who self-reported negative affect (feelings like anxiety and sadness) in the “high risk” category increased from 17.3 percent to 25.2 percent. Interestingly, students who were “very” or “extremely” worried about catching COVID-19 fell slightly from 38.2 percent to 34.8 percent, suggesting that the social disruptions of the pandemic outweighed the health hazards. were more powerful.

Line drawing of a young man in a hoodie looking out the window
Youth resilience support from parents, personal resources and communities remained steady during the pandemic.
(canva)

Important developmental and contextual factors are also often overlooked when reporting the overall presentation of youth mental health. In our study, the 15–18 age group reported more stress than the 12–14 age group, women reported more negative affect than men, and those whose families had experienced income loss and previous psychological Those diagnosed had unique stress and mental health profiles. .

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However, for all youth in our study – whether across risk ranges or within specific categories of functioning – self-reported resilience support from parents, individual resources and communities remained high and stable.

General response versus mental health crisis

What does all this mean? While some youth are clearly reporting the increased negative impacts of the pandemic on their social, personal and educational lives, in all the areas we measured, more than seven out of 10 youth in our sample contracted COVID-19 in those ways. who are developmentally and psychologically normal. This aligns with the above Canadian pre-COVID longitudinal studies. In other words, contrary to the dangerous headlines, most young people are doing their best!

Young man with nostalgic expression, amidst pictures of the same youth with sad expression and happy expression.
Most young people are responding to the pandemic in a psychologically and developmentally normal way.
(pixabay)

But what about the remaining 30 percent? Do their self-reported symptoms mean we have a shadow epidemic of youth mental health? Part of the answer may come in the language we use to understand mental disorders (part of mental health literacy). Simply put, feeling sad or lonely is not depression; A feeling of worry or nervousness is not anxiety. Literature that leads us to believe otherwise is immoral at best and medical at worst.

Distorting normal, healthy responses to adverse experiences promotes misunderstandings about mental illness, and telling children that their COVID-19-related thoughts and feelings are similar to those of mental disorders may be re-establishing a stigma. We have worked very hard to remove it. Many factors must be ruled out before we can reliably diagnose a mental disorder. And although an epidemic can certainly exacerbate symptoms consistent with or contributing to a mental disorder, it is not a straight, causal line.

Resilience occurs when children experience adversity in terms of available and accessible personal and social resources. When youth consistently hear messages that their sadness, frustration or anxiety is being interpreted as a mental disorder, it is a unique opportunity for youth to learn how to adapt and even survive in the midst of a pandemic. That is to learn to thrive.

For young people who need it, let us get them evidence-based support as quickly as possible and as close to their communities as possible, such as school-based services. But for most young people, qualifying their life experiences as clinically intractable only adds to the heavy load of coping with COVID-19 in their already.

Our challenge going forward will be to accept the sincerity of their sorrow and concern. And To nurture their strength of perseverance and resolve. By doing so, we can begin to envision and create the changes in youth mental health promotion, prevention and intervention that are so desperately needed. And it’s a title we can all agree on.

This article is republished from – The Conversation – Read the – original article.

Nation World News Desk
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