The negative impact of COVID-related stressors on children and adolescents call for a robust public health response

de Figueiredo, C. S., Sandre, P. C., Portugal, L. C. L., Mazala-de-Oliveira, T. ., Chagas, L. D. S., Rainy, I. ., … Bomfim, P. O. (2021). COVID-19 pandemic impact on children and adolescents’ mental health: Biological, environmental, and social factors. Progress in Neuropsychopharmacology and Biological Psychiatry, 106.

COVID-19 has brought about unprecedented changes in the way we live our daily lives. The need for social isolation is a major contributor to such changes. Humans are social beings and thus likely to be negatively impacted by social isolation. This may be especially true for children and adolescents who, because of the pandemic, experienced abrupt withdrawal from school, social life, and outdoor activities. For many, this meant switching from the “play-outside mode” to the “play-indoor mode” and more time on the screen.

Other COVID-19 related stressors for many children and adolescents include fear, anxiety, frustration, boredom, and information overload. Some children were also exposed to family financial loss, increased domestic violence, and the loss of a loved one due to the virus. Additionally, the pandemic has been widening and exposing the social inequality affected by the economic shutdown. There's no doubt, then, that COVID-19 has a multifactorial impact on children and adolescents.

Knowing that the stressors of the pandemic can have short- and long-term negative impacts on children and youth calls for the identification and implementation of strategies to mitigate the harm. One concern discussed in this paper relates to how pandemic-related stressors might impact the young brain while it is under development and susceptible to stressors. Such stressors can trigger neuroinflammation and behavioral impairments. Another concern relates to the fact that social isolation stress can induce neuroimmunoendocrine changes during early life. An overall concern relates to how pandemic stressors early in life may lead to neuropsychiatric outcomes in adulthood.

The discussion of these stressors and related concerns as outlined in this paper is intended to alert public health and government agents about the need for long-term surveillance and care of children and adolescents. The hope is that the damage to their mental health as a result of the pandemic experience can be mitigated by adequate and timely intervention.

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