Creating healthier futures for ill children

Elaborating the need of supporting children's mental health

The coronavirus pandemic causes uncertainty and it is expected that mental health disorders will peak both among children and adults. Traditional healthcare services are not currently accessible and there is an urgent need to deploy digital tools to mitigate the pandemic impact on behavioral health. Although not specifically in the risk group, all children are universally vulnerable to the mental burden of isolation, confusion, and worry about themselves or their close ones getting infected.

The coronavirus pandemic is a threat to the global population both from the perspective of its risk to human life and ensuing economic distress, but also because of the invisible emotional distress. The focus currently is understandably on containing coronavirus but at the same time, it is important to take action to mitigate the pandemic impact on behavioral health. The increase in mental health disorders during and after the crisis is expected. For example, following the global financial crisis in 2007–2008, many countries saw higher rates of mental disorders. Statistics from Spain indicated that depression rates increased from less than 30% to almost 50% in the population (Gili et al., 2013). However, the effect of the coronavirus pandemic reaches beyond the negative effects of a traditional economic downturn. Coronavirus presents additional challenges that are related to fear of the virus itself, collective grief, prolonged physical distancing and associated social isolation resulting in a profound impact on mental wellbeing both short term and in the long run (Goldmann & Galea, 2014). Already now, based on a survey conducted in March 2020, 64% of adults reported being anxious or depressed (McKinsey Consumer Healthcare Insights, 2020). These numbers are already now higher than average and are expected to rise.

The increase in mental health disorders does not only affect adults. Children are also affected by the crisis and to make matters worse, they solely need to rely on the resources of their parents in this crisis situation. However, parents might not have the resources to support their children effectively due to their own stress and psychological problems that influence parent-child relationships and may result in children’s symptoms of emotional and behavioral problems, worsened academic and global functioning (England & Sim, 2009). At the same time, 50% of mental health disorders develop in childhood and adolescence (Jones, 2013; Kessler et al., 2005). Thus, at this early stage, it would be important to intervene to support the families, yet the access to care has been disrupted. Mental health services are not easily accessible during the coronavirus pandemic. And even during the times of normal operations, only one in four children who need mental health treatment receive the help they need (Korkodilos, 2016), partly due to the shortage of mental health professionals working with children. Importantly, not only disrupted access to healthcare services affects children negatively. The situation is further complicated as a result of school closures. An analysis of the 2012 to 2015 NSDUH found that among all adolescents who used any mental health services in the year, 57% received some school-based mental health services. Furthermore, among adolescents who received any mental health services during 2012 to 2015, 35% received their mental health services exclusively from school settings. School closures are especially disruptive for the mental health services of that group.

The consequences of leaving mental health issues unattended during childhood and adolescence have serious and long-term negative effects on individuals - first, by keeping children from reaching their full developmental potential, and second, having a significant impact on their quality of life throughout the course of their lives.

Especially in the coronavirus pandemic context, children need mental health support more than ever. The crisis situation creates uncertainty and has changed nearly all aspects of daily living - understandably it may cause distress and anxiety. Based on the WHO announcement, the impact of the coronavirus crisis on children’s mental health is very concerning as children face an enormous disruption to their lives, including lack of social support and increased worries over uncertainty (World Health Organisation, 2020). WHO urges to increase access to mental health and psychosocial support services to support the mental wellbeing of children and families. But since the traditional mental health services are not accessible, it is crucial to immediately deploy age-appropriate digital interventions to children in the context of the coronavirus pandemic.

The geographic spread of the problem is worldwide, which means that children all over the world are affected by the crisis situation. Roughly 10% (7-12% depending on the country) of the whole global population belongs to the middle childhood age group (5-14-year-olds) which is the target user group of the the Triumf Health platform.

References:

England, M. J., & Sim, L. J. (Eds.). (2009). Treatment of Depression in Parents. In Depression in Parents, Parenting, and Children: Opportunities to Improve Identification, Treatment, and Prevention. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US). Gili, M., Roca, M., Basu, S., McKee, M., & Stuckler, D. (2013). The mental health risks of economic crisis in Spain: evidence from primary care centres, 2006 and 2010. In European Journal of Public Health (Vol. 23, Issue 1, pp. 103–108). https://doi.org/10.1093/eurpub/cks035 Goldmann, E., & Galea, S. (2014). Mental health consequences of disasters. Annual Review of Public Health, 35, 169–183. Jones, P. B. (2013). Adult mental health disorders and their age at onset. The British Journal of Psychiatry. Supplement, 54, s5–s10. Kessler, R. C., Berglund, P., Demler, O., Jin, R., Merikangas, K. R., & Walters, E. E. (2005). Lifetime prevalence and age-of-onset distributions of DSM-IV disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication. Archives of General Psychiatry, 62(6), 593–602. McKinsey Consumer Healthcare Insights. (2020, March). Helping US healthcare stakeholders understand the human side of the COVID-19 crisis. https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/healthcare-systems-and-services/our-insights/helping-us-healthcare-stakeholders-understand-the-human-side-of-the-covid-19-crisis Public Health England. (2016). The mental health of children and young people in England. Public Health England. https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/575632/Mental_health_of_children_in_England.pdf World Health Organisation. (2019, August 9). Mental health in the workplace. World Health Organization. http://www.who.int/mental_health/in_the_workplace/en/

Author

Dr. Kadri Haljas

Author

Dr. Kadri Haljas

Being an expert in the mental burden of chronic disease, Kadri is the idea generator and Triumf team leader. She has a background in clinical psychology and research.