Childhood loneliness can have long-term effects on mental health

Key points

  • According to a new systematic review, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, children and adolescents have been quarantined for weeks or even months, which may affect their mental health in the short and long term.
  • Experts say the results indicate that children may struggle with the mental health effects of the pandemic in the coming months or years, but parents, guardians, school staff and mental health professionals can all help.

Based on a new review of existing evidence about children’s loneliness, children who were trapped at home or left school for weeks or months during the pandemic may face mental health effects now and in the future.

A quick systematic review of 83 articles, published in Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, It is found that loneliness is related to children’s depression and anxiety, and those who feel lonely for a longer period of time may be more affected.

“There is evidence that, up to 9 years later, loneliness is related to subsequent mental health outcomes,” said Maria Loades, PhD in clinical psychology, co-author of the review and senior lecturer in the Department of Psychology at Harvard University. bath. “Loneliness may also affect self-esteem, self-confidence, and happiness.”

Review result

Based on available evidence, researchers have found that children and adolescents are more likely to experience mental health symptoms during and after the end of mandatory isolation. It said that if mandatory isolation continues, these symptoms may also increase.

“We know that during a pandemic, children and young people have limited opportunities to meet their peers,” Loades said. “The evidence we have compiled suggests that, in the short and long term, those who have experienced prolonged loneliness during the lockdown may be more susceptible to mental health issues such as anxiety and depression.”

The review also listed “duration of isolation, fear of infection, boredom, frustration, lack of necessary supplies, lack of information, economic loss, and stigma” as factors that “seem to increase the risk of negative psychological outcomes”. School closures can lead to isolation and can increase the risk of anxiety and depression.

What does this mean for caregivers and teachers

Dr. Anthony Puliafico, associate professor of medical psychology (psychiatry) at Columbia University Medical Center, said that parents, guardians, and school staff should remove two key points from the review, and he has nothing to do with the review.

First of all, this kind of social connection is very important to the development of children. During the pandemic, children should socialize regularly in a safe way.

Second, “We need to balance measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19 with strategies to support the social and emotional health of our children,” Puliafico said. “Not all children and young people may go to school in person. In fact, it may not be safe for children to go to school at certain times in the coming year. However, for children who do not actually learn, it is important to establish and maintain other meaningful Social opportunities.”

Anthony C. Puliafico, PhD

We need to strike a balance between measures to minimize the spread of COVID-19 and strategies to support the social and emotional health of our children.

— Dr. Anthony C. Puliafico

He recommends helping children socialize through online group chats, video calls or social media. “Given the limited options for face-to-face social interaction, it may be important for parents to be more flexible about the time their children spend in these online activities,” Puliafico said.

Nonetheless, parents should pay close attention to their children’s online activities to ensure that they use these activities in a positive way to maintain social contact. “For example, passively observing the social media posts of others may Increase The loneliness of teenagers,” he said.

What to do if your child is struggling

If a child feels alone or has symptoms of depression or anxiety, the first thing a parent or guardian can do is talk to them. Puliafico recommends contacting them regularly to find out how they feel and asking them what can help them reduce their loneliness.

He said: “Make sure your child has some COVID-safe social channels at school or outside of school.” “If you are concerned about him feeling socially isolated, please communicate with your child’s school, even if your child does not go to school in person.”

Children may also benefit from talking to the therapist. “Methods such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) help young people develop ways to manage their thoughts and try different ways of doing things to help them feel better and enable them to do what they want,” Loades said, adding There is also preliminary evidence that cultivating new hobbies can help young people reduce their loneliness.

Pugliafico said caregivers, teachers and mental health professionals should also be flexible when supporting children during the pandemic. “During this period, it is vital to help our children establish and maintain contact with their peers,” he said.

“These connections may look different from the past, especially as they may involve more online social interaction, but they are still vital to the healthy development and well-being of our children.”

What this means to you

Whether you are a parent, an aunt, a parenting expert, or a teacher, you may know a child who has been affected by the isolation caused by the pandemic. You can contact them to inquire about their work or sign in via video chat.

If you are a parent, you can ask them if there is anything they can do to help them establish more connections with their friends. And don’t just register once, because the pandemic is not over yet. Talk to them at dinner, or have a one-on-one conversation once a week.

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means that you may receive updated information while reading this article. For the latest updates on COVID-19, please visit our Coronavirus News page.