The full toll of COVID-19 on children's mental health won't be known for years

3 months 3 weeks 4 days ago Thursday, May 28 2020 May 28, 2020 Thursday, May 28, 2020 12:26:23 PM CDT May 28, 2020 in A Brighter Tomorrow
Source: CNN
By: Dr. Edith Bracho-Sanchez

Editor's note: Dr. Edith Bracho-Sanchez is a primary care pediatrician, director of pediatric telemedicine and assistant professor of pediatrics at Columbia University Irving Medical Center. The views expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

    (CNN) -- "Any time the doorbell rings, he runs inside and hides," a parent recently shared with me when talking about how difficult the coronavirus pandemic has been for her 5-year-old child.

"I think I have pleuritis," a 10-year-old told me last month. "It hurts when I breathe in deep."

"Really? What else have you read?" I asked.

"Well, if it's not pleuritis, it could be anxiety. If it's not pleuritis or anxiety, this could be bad," he declared. He'd spent hours Googling his own symptoms, his mom later told me. He also spent hours every day worrying about the coronavirus, about his family's health, school and his classmates.

Most of my patients don't recruit Google to diagnose their own anxiety. Most don't run and hide when the doorbell rings either. For many children, the first signs of anxiety and depression manifest as vague symptoms: a mild headache that won't go away, outbursts of anger, acting out, an inability to focus in school, etc.

In the midst of a global pandemic with a rising death toll, these vague symptoms, experienced by children without the ability to verbalize or advocate for themselves, can be easily overlooked in the country's response. But to overlook the mental health of children and teens would have devastating consequences for years to come.

As a country, we have struggled to adequately diagnose, treat and support children with mental health conditions for years. Nearly 1 in 7 children in the United States have a mental health condition, and half go untreated, according to a study published last year in the Journal JAMA Pediatrics.

Rising rates of mental health issues

For reasons we don't fully understand, depression, suicide attempts and suicide itself have all been on the rise over the past decade. The number of children and teens in the United States who visited emergency rooms for suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts, for example, doubled between 2007 and 2015, according to an analysis of data published by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last year.

And although children and teens of all ages and races have been affected, black and Latino teens experience higher rates of suicide attempts, the single greatest predictor of future suicide, than their white counterparts, according to CDC data.

Covid-19, too, has come to prey on communities of color at disproportionate rates. In New York City, where I practice, blacks and Latinos were killed by the illness at twice the rate as white people, according to data released by the city last month.

There is no question that all children have been affected by the pandemic in one way or another. But children in communities of color have more frequently sheltered in place while watching adult family members leave the home to earn a living, later to contract the virus.

We currently have no way of predicting the long term effects of the pandemic on children. Covid-19 is an unprecedented natural experiment in and of itself. Some kids may come out the other end with increased resilience. Others may experience the type of long-term trauma that impairs their development and keeps them overly cautious in the future.

But as our society gets reimagined, the well-being of children needs to be a top priority.

Now is the time to invest in the infrastructure that will ensure access to mental health resources for the most vulnerable. Many Medicaid providers, on which 40% of children in this country depend, are at risk of closing their doors. Now, too, is the time to ensure that the 27 million Americans currently at risk of losing their employer-sponsored health insurance don't lose it.

And perhaps most importantly, now is the time to bring true financial relief to the many households in this country that are economically affected by this crisis. Until basic shelter and food needs are met, it is unfair to ask parents to prioritize the mental health of their children.

The road ahead is long and full of uncertainty, but the time to plan and invest in the well-being of the country's children is now.

The-CNN-Wire™ & © 2020 Cable News Network, Inc., a WarnerMedia Company. All rights reserved.

More News

Grid
List
(CNN) -- NBA legend Michael Jordan will be trying his hand at a new sport soon, NASCAR. Jordan and... More >>
59 minutes ago Tuesday, September 22 2020 Sep 22, 2020 Tuesday, September 22, 2020 12:12:47 PM CDT September 22, 2020 in News
(CNN) -- What happened today seemed impossible to many Americans six months ago. When Dr. Anthony Fauci predicted in... More >>
1 hour ago Tuesday, September 22 2020 Sep 22, 2020 Tuesday, September 22, 2020 11:57:00 AM CDT September 22, 2020 in News
COLUMBIA- Missouri candidates for governor will participate in a forum at 2 p.m. Friday, Sept. 25, sponsored by the Missouri... More >>
1 hour ago Tuesday, September 22 2020 Sep 22, 2020 Tuesday, September 22, 2020 11:15:00 AM CDT September 22, 2020 in News
As COVID-19 continues to spread, KOMU 8 will continue to update you about impacts in the community. Previous coverage: ... More >>
2 hours ago Tuesday, September 22 2020 Sep 22, 2020 Tuesday, September 22, 2020 11:00:00 AM CDT September 22, 2020 in News
(CNN) — Three NFL teams are being fined $250,000 each because their coaches were not wearing face coverings during games... More >>
4 hours ago Tuesday, September 22 2020 Sep 22, 2020 Tuesday, September 22, 2020 8:45:00 AM CDT September 22, 2020 in News
(CNN) — The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Monday abruptly reverted to its previous guidance about how... More >>
5 hours ago Tuesday, September 22 2020 Sep 22, 2020 Tuesday, September 22, 2020 8:00:00 AM CDT September 22, 2020 in News
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump met with Judge Amy Coney Barrett at the White House as the conservative jurist... More >>
5 hours ago Tuesday, September 22 2020 Sep 22, 2020 Tuesday, September 22, 2020 7:30:00 AM CDT September 22, 2020 in News
HOUSTON (AP) — Storm surge and rainfall combined Tuesday to bring more flooding along the Texas coast after Tropical Storm... More >>
6 hours ago Tuesday, September 22 2020 Sep 22, 2020 Tuesday, September 22, 2020 7:00:00 AM CDT September 22, 2020 in News
UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The U.N.’s first virtual meeting of world leaders was set to start Tuesday with pre-recorded speeches... More >>
6 hours ago Tuesday, September 22 2020 Sep 22, 2020 Tuesday, September 22, 2020 6:30:00 AM CDT September 22, 2020 in News
Columbia City Council passes FY2021 budget, approves trail extension The City of Columbia has officially passed its budget for... More >>
7 hours ago Tuesday, September 22 2020 Sep 22, 2020 Tuesday, September 22, 2020 5:30:00 AM CDT September 22, 2020 in News
COLUMBIA - The City of Columbia has officially passed its budget for the 2021 fiscal year during a council meeting... More >>
14 hours ago Monday, September 21 2020 Sep 21, 2020 Monday, September 21, 2020 10:36:00 PM CDT September 21, 2020 in Top Stories
COLUMBIA - Columbia Public Schools' 14-day case rate per 10,000 people has fallen below the maximum rate for hybrid learning.... More >>
15 hours ago Monday, September 21 2020 Sep 21, 2020 Monday, September 21, 2020 9:47:00 PM CDT September 21, 2020 in News
COLUMBIA - Two blessing boxes were unveiled in Columbia on Monday. The two additional boxes brings the total to... More >>
15 hours ago Monday, September 21 2020 Sep 21, 2020 Monday, September 21, 2020 9:45:00 PM CDT September 21, 2020 in News
JEFFERSON CITY -- Jefferson City Council decided not to vote on a resolution Monday night to remove the Civil War... More >>
15 hours ago Monday, September 21 2020 Sep 21, 2020 Monday, September 21, 2020 9:39:00 PM CDT September 21, 2020 in News
COLUMBIA — Election day is drawing closer, but some voters are confused on the difference between mail-in and absentee ballots.... More >>
16 hours ago Monday, September 21 2020 Sep 21, 2020 Monday, September 21, 2020 8:18:00 PM CDT September 21, 2020 in News
COLUMBIA - A Columbia Hy-Vee is giving away 500 free meals on Tuesday, September 22. The Rock Bridge Hy-Vee... More >>
17 hours ago Monday, September 21 2020 Sep 21, 2020 Monday, September 21, 2020 7:47:00 PM CDT September 21, 2020 in News
UPDATE: Columbia City Council approved the construction of the Perche Creek Trail at its meeting on Monday. COLUMBIA- The... More >>
19 hours ago Monday, September 21 2020 Sep 21, 2020 Monday, September 21, 2020 5:52:00 PM CDT September 21, 2020 in News
COLE COUNTY- Osage Fire crews were called to a barn fire around 12:30 p.m. Monday in the 7700 block of... More >>
20 hours ago Monday, September 21 2020 Sep 21, 2020 Monday, September 21, 2020 5:08:00 PM CDT September 21, 2020 in News
Columbia, MO
Broken Clouds 73°
2pm 76°
3pm 76°
4pm 76°
5pm 75°