Infectious Disease

The prevalence of depression and anxiety in children doubles during the pandemic

August 19, 2021

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Disclosure:
Racine reports that he has received scholarship support from Alberta Innovates. Please refer to the study for all relevant financial information from the other authors.

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The global prevalence of symptoms of clinically heightened depression and anxiety has likely doubled in children during the COVID-19 pandemic, researchers reported in JAMA Pediatrics.

A meta-analysis carried out by Nicole Racine, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow in psychology at the University of Calgary, and colleagues found that the pooled prevalence estimates for clinically elevated depression and anxiety in children and adolescents during the first year of the pandemic were 25.2% and 20.5%, respectively, compared to one estimated pre-pandemic prevalence of 12.9% and 11.6%, respectively.

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The meta-analysis included 29 studies on pediatric depression and anxiety symptoms that were published from January 1, 2020 to February 16, 2021, as well as unpublished studies from the preprint server PsycArXiv.

The studies included 80,879 participants – 52.7% were female and the mean age was 13 years. They included data from East Asia, Europe, North America, Central America, South America, and the Middle East.

The pooled prevalence of clinically elevated depression symptoms from 26 studies showed a rate of 0.25 (95% CI, 0.21-0.3), Racine and colleagues reported. In addition, the researchers found that as the number of months in the year increased, so did the symptoms of depression.

The pooled prevalence of clinically increased anxiety symptoms from 25 studies showed a rate of 0.21 (95% CI, 0.17-0.24). As with depression, anxiety symptoms increased over the year.

“The COVID-19 pandemic and the associated restrictions and consequences seem to have placed considerable demands on young people and their psychological well-being,” the authors write. “Loss of peer interactions, social isolation, and reduced contact with buffers may have triggered these increases.”

In a related editorial Tami D. Benton, MD, Psychiatrist-in-Chief and Executive Director and Chair of the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, and colleagues said the pandemic was a “global call to action” and the crisis of youth depression and anxiety began long before the pandemic.

“We need to advocate implementing evidence-based practices that are scalable, expand access to care, and eliminate global inequalities. We must take responsibility for equitable mental health care for all children around the world, ”wrote Benton and colleagues.

References:

Benton TD et al. JAMA Pediatrics. 2021; doi: 10.1001 / jamapediatrics.2021.2479.

Racine N, et al. JAMA Pediatrics. 2021; doi: 10.1001 / jamapediatrics.2021.2482.

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