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COVID-19 Pandemic Hardships Reduced Quality of Life for Children

COVID-19 introduced lifestyle hardships for families and kids, increasing stress levels and reducing the quality of life for children.

Children of families that experienced greater hardships related to the COVID-19 pandemic had a poorer quality of life, according to a new National Institutes of Health (NIH)-funded study.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, children experienced major social disruptions caused by unprecedented conditions that impacted the environment in which children grow, play, and learn, known as the social determinants of health.

These pandemic-related disruptions resulted in family hardship and associated stress, impacting patient quality of life by increasing mental health challenges for children throughout the nation.

Researchers collected survey data between May 2020 and May 2021 to evaluate the impact COVID-19 pandemic-related family hardships had on caregiver and child stress. In addition, researchers looked to understand how stress, social connection, family engagement, and pre-existing mental health conditions altered life satisfaction for children.

In the study of more than 1,600 families from 30 states, researchers found that families who faced more pandemic-related hardship had higher levels of caregiver and youth stress, decreasing youth life satisfaction and quality of life.

Further, female adolescents in the 11 to 17 age groups had greater stress levels than males within that same age group. Preexisting mental health conditions such as anxiety or depression negatively impacted life satisfaction for adolescents.

COVID-19 pandemic-related family hardships such as unemployment, food insecurity, childcare difficulties, health concerns, and worries about the child and family were reported as predictors for higher stress levels.

However, researchers uncovered factors that supported life satisfaction amid the impacts of the pandemic. Social relationships and family engagement contributed to greater life satisfaction for all children.

Children between 2 and 12 years old were able to reduce the effects of pandemic-related stress by connecting with friends and family. Despite social distancing and quarantine guidelines reducing in-person contact, remote interaction had a significant impact on life satisfaction for children.

“The findings demonstrate ways families can cope with adverse events and promote their children's well-being through family engagement and fostering peer social connectedness," Courtney K Blackwell, PhD of Northwestern University, an investigator in the NIH Environmental influences on Child Health Outcomes (ECHO) Program said in the study.

"They also show that stress and well-being are not direct opposites, suggesting the need for future interventions that target both decreasing children's stress and improving their well-being," Blackwell added.

The pandemic has not only impacted children’s behavioral wellbeing and quality of life, but also their access to care.

However, there have been initiatives set to address the lack of pediatric mental health access. Recently, Nemours Children Health received a grant from TD Bank to improve equitable access to pediatric mental health services across Florida and Delaware.

There is a pretty significant need for these kinds of services, Nemours and TD Bank noted.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, suicide persists as the second leading cause of death among children.

Inadequate access to mental health providers leaves patients without care or they must depend on emergency services for behavioral health issues.

The Nemours Children's Health Integrated Behavioral Health initiative will provide pediatric patients access to psychologists, licensed professional counselors, and licensed clinical social workers by placing them within a patient's medical home.

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