The COVID-19 pandemic brought countries around the world to an unprecedented halt. In an effort to limit the spread of the virus, major cities shut down virtually all inessential activity, including entire school boards. As this type of lockdown has rarely been seen throughout history, its effect on young children is yet unknown.
The new coronavirus was first reported in the city of Wuhan, China, and as it spread throughout the country, over 180 million Chinese students were confined to their homes. The current study wanted to examine how these children were impacted by the confinement measures, focusing on several regions of the Hubei province in China.
A total of 1,784 children from grades 2-6 completed an online survey. The children were asked about their optimism towards the COVID-19 epidemic and their worry about being infected with the virus. The survey also assessed symptoms of anxiety and depression using the Screen for Child Anxiety Related Emotional Disorders and the Children’s Depression Inventory-Short Form.
At the time of the survey, children had been home for an average of 34 days. Of the total sample, 675 children were from Wuhan, where schools were closed from January 23, 2020, until April 8, 2020. The other 1,109 students were from Huangshi and stayed home from January 24, 2020, to March 23, 2020.
Results showed that around 23% of students showed depressive symptoms and about 19% showed symptoms of anxiety. The researchers point out that these numbers are higher than what is typically seen in young Chinese children and suggest that the loss of normal activities may have impacted the mental health of children in lockdown. “During the outbreak of COVID-19,” the authors say, “the reduction of outdoor activities and social interaction may have been associated with an increase in children’s depressive symptoms.”
When it came to their level of worry about being infected with COVID-19, the majority of children (62%) experienced some worry, with 25% feeling moderately worried and 37% quite worried. Around half of the children (51%) felt quite optimistic about the epidemic and around 37% felt moderately optimistic. Those who were in the “not optimistic” category (12%) showed a higher risk of depressive symptoms.
The authors conclude that their findings provide evidence that public health crises can have psychological effects on school-aged children. The researchers express the desire to follow up with the children of this study to determine whether or not these mental health effects will be long-lasting.
The study, “Mental Health Status Among Children in Home Confinement During the Coronavirus Disease 2019 Outbreak in Hubei Province, China”, was authored by Xinyan Xie, Qi Xue, Yu Zhou, Kaiheng Zhu, Qi Liu, Jiajia Zhang, and Ranran Song.