Young children had been the least likely to get infected by coronavirus, yet medical experts say that they may experience indirect effects of the virus such as trauma. Hospital conditions, standard protocol, and isolation are just a few of the challenges that affect children's physical and mental health during the pandemic.
Dr. Neil Chanchlani from the University of Exeter said, 'While children and young people seem rarely to be victims of severe COVID-19, we should anticipate that they will experience substantial indirect physical, social and mental health effects related to reduced access to health care and general pandemic control measures.' In a new study, his team determined the various adversities children are facing during the pandemic.
For those hospitalized with coronavirus, many young children do not understand why they need to be isolated, resulting in fear and loneliness. Moreover, some are scared of medical workers covered in full personal protective equipment (PPE), which some have called 'scary monsters.'
Pandemic Adverse Childhood Experiences
Strict lockdown rules have also caused an increase in family violence, food insecurity, and poverty, resulting in adverse childhood experiences. These experiences affect the child's mental health severely causing obesity and even cardiovascular disease when they get older.
In addition to these non-virus related adverse effects, children that need medical attention for other illnesses have been delayed out of parents' fear, lack of resources, or other reasons. Vaccine appointments have also been missed or canceled, putting the child's health at risk.
Dr. Peter Gill, a co-author of the study from The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids), said that 'Delays in bringing children and young people to medical attention may be due to parental fears of exposure to COVID-19 in hospitals or on public transit, lack of childcare for other children, lack of access to primary care due to closures, or changes to hospital visitation policies.'
Another important factor is reduced or no social contact due to closed schools and nurseries, as well as travel bans. Staying at home typically leads to more screen time and less physical activity which results in early depression and anxiety.
Schools closing down or switching to online classes hits low-income families the hardest who lack the resources for their children to continue with classes. Some schools have an integrated meal program, and with that gone, food insecurity for some children has increased.
Francine Buchanan, the study's third author and Research Patient & Family Engagement Coordinator at SickKids said, 'We need to better understand what goes into the decisions families make regarding the complex needs of their children during this pandemic and how we can better support them.' Practical and personal considerations need to be taken into account for the well-being of young children.
Mitigating the Problems
The authors have suggested several ways to mitigate these adverse effects, starting with clearly communicating what is coronavirus, what are the up-to-date protocols, and that health services are still open to non-coronavirus related illnesses.
Another suggestion is for hospitals to deliver vital services in various locations or online. In other parts of the world, hospitals have provided juvenile patients with games, toys, and coloring books to help cope with isolation. 'We owe it to our children and young people to proactively measure the COVID-19 pandemic's indirect effects on their health and to take steps to mitigate the collateral damage,' said the doctors.