According to a new study published in JAMA Pediatrics. The researchers found that the pandemic had caused significant damage to children’s mental health.
In the study, “School closures during social confinement and mental health, health behaviors, and well-being among children and adolescents during the first wave of COVID-19: a systematic review,” researchers recognized the need for further study regarding the relationship between health and well-being associated with school closures.
Researchers reviewed published reports on the association of school closures during broader social lockdown with the mental health, health behaviors and well-being of children and adolescents aged 0 to 19, at the exclusion of associations with transmission of infection.
They looked at 11 databases that were searched from inception to September 2020, and machine learning was applied for article selection. A total of 16,817 records were reviewed, 151 were full-text reviewed and 36 studies were included. The quality assessment was adapted to the type of study. A narrative synthesis of the results was undertaken as the data did not allow for meta-analysis.
The 36 studies, which took place during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic (February to July 2020), came from 11 countries and involved a total of 79,781 children and adolescents and 18,028 parents. All assessed school closures as part of a broader social lockdown during the first wave of COVID-19, and the duration of school closures ranged from one week to three months, according to the study.
Of these, nine (25%) were pre-post longitudinal studies, five (14%) were cohort studies, 21 (58%) were cross-sectional, and one (3%) was a modeling study. Thirteen studies (36%) were of high quality, 17 (47%) were of moderate quality and six (17%) were of low quality.
Twenty-three studies (64%) were published, eight (22%) were online reports and five (14%) were preprints. Twenty-five studies (69%) of mental health identified associations between emotional, behavioral and agitation/inattention problems; 18% to 60% of children and adolescents scored above thresholds for risk of distress, particularly anxiety and depressive symptoms, and two studies reported no significant association with suicide.
Three studies reported that referrals to child protection were lower than the expected number of referrals from schools. Three studies suggested greater use of screen time, two studies reported greater use of social media, and six studies reported lower physical activity. Studies on sleep (10 studies) and diet (five studies) provided inconclusive evidence of harmful effects.
According to the study, in this narrative synthesis of reports from the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, studies of short-term school closures as part of social confinement measures reported mental health symptoms. and harmful health behaviors in children and adolescents. Associations between school closures and health outcomes and behaviors could not be separated from broader lockdown measures, the researchers said.
The researchers noted that online education provides a level of social interaction and may act to mitigate some harms resulting from reduced social mixing. However, evidence that online learning does little to mitigate the learning losses associated with school closures, even in high-income countries, suggests further study is needed on its relationship to health. mental health and well-being, they said.
In this systematic review of reports from the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, studies of short-term school closures as part of a broader social lockdown reported mental health symptoms and behaviors of adverse health effects in children and adolescents, the researchers wrote. Available data failed to distinguish associations between school closures and health outcomes and behaviors from those of broader lockdown measures, they concluded.