Evidence shows that while the physical effects of COVID-19 have not been as severe for most children as they have for adults, the mental health impact has been every bit as great.
And, as with the disruption caused by the virus on all families, our low-income families and communities of color have been hit the hardest. According to the Mayo Clinic, surveys show a major increase in the number of U.S. adults who report symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression during the pandemic, compared with surveys from before the pandemic.
“Traumatic events can trigger emotional health challenges for anyone, but especially for children whose families face multi-layered, complex issues,” said Lauren Davis, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker with the Ossining Open Door Family Medical Center. Open Door treats over 60,000 low-income patients annually, the majority who live at or below the Federal Poverty line of $26,500 for a family of four. In 2020, the Federally Qualified health center provided over 40,000 behavioral health visits to individuals in the community.
“We see many families, who in addition to the stress and anxiety caused at this time by COVID-19, have faced food and housing insecurities, loss of jobs, lack of transportation, and a digital divide that only exacerbates the difficulties their children face and has an impact on their overall health,” said Davis.
Davis shared that predictability and structure, said Davis, stabilizing forces for the mental health of children and adolescents, have been lost during the pandemic. This has included the loss of structure in school, the loss of adults being available to them, and the loss of social interaction with friends and family.
This concern is shared by the federal government, with the recent announcement by the Department of Health and Human Services that it would expand pediatric mental health care access by using $14.2 million from the American Rescue Plan to expand pediatric mental health care access by integrating telehealth services into pediatric primary care.
“Children have emotional needs that can easily remain under the radar,” said Davis. “Not all children respond to stress the same way. But, as a rule, kids don’t want to burden their parents who may be dealing with these compounded issues.”
Such concerns caused by the social determinants of health – all the factors that impact a child’s health – can lead to depression and anxiety. But with the support of a therapist, children and parents can learn coping skills to handle the stress, and in turn, will make the family unit more resilient.
“At Open Door, we offer a range of behavioral health support for families and children, regardless of ability to pay,” said Davis. “We continue to be a presence in the community for helping many families get through this collective trauma. We’re here to help.”