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The Hidden Long Term Costs of COVID-19: How School Closures Affected Children's Mental Health

The COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns had significant impacts on children's mental health. With the closure of schools, children were forced to spend most of their time at home, which led to a halt in their social development. The absence of social interactions with peers and teachers could have significant long-term consequences for children's development, impacting their social skills and emotional wellbeing. There has also been an increase in certain disorders in young people.

Social Anxiety

For many children, the return to the outside world after a prolonged period of isolation was daunting. The fear of interacting with others, especially those outside of their immediate family, led to an increase in social anxiety. Children who were previously comfortable interacting with their peers and teachers found themselves struggling to adjust to the social norms that they were used to.

Separation Anxiety

The prolonged period of isolation also led to an increase in separation anxiety for many children. Being confined to their homes with their parents for extended periods resulted in children becoming too used to being around their parents. As a result, the idea of separation, even if it's just for a short while, caused significant anxiety for children. Moreover, children also developed increased worry about their parents getting ill, further exacerbating their separation anxiety.

Health Anxiety

The pandemic also led to an increase in health anxiety among children. With constant news coverage and discussions about the virus, many children began to worry about their health and the health of their loved ones. This led to an increase in hypervigilance and fear of illness, which can manifest as obsessive-compulsive behaviours like excessive hand washing. This heightened sense of worry about one's health can result in ongoing anxiety and a reluctance to leave the house, which could have long-term impacts on children's mental health.

OCD

Moreover, the increase in hand washing during the pandemic led to an increase in OCD in children. Children who may have previously shown no signs of OCD began to display obsessive-compulsive behaviours due to the emphasis on hand washing and hygiene. Over time, this could lead to ongoing anxiety and compulsive behaviours that interfere with daily life.

There were certain year groups who would have been impacted moreso, including those in transitions (primary school leavers, secondary school leavers and first year University students). First year University students, for instance, missed out on freshers' social events which are a crucial part of meeting new people and settling into their new lives away from home.

The closures of schools and children being forced to stay home due to the pandemic have had a profound impact on many children's mental health. Social development has been halted, and going back into the world has caused anxiety for many. Separation anxiety and worry about parents' health have increased, along with health anxiety and OCD. As we move forward, it's important to acknowledge the impact that this pandemic has had on some of our children, teenagers and young people and to continue to support their mental health needs. It's crucial that we work together to address the long-term effects of these lockdowns and school closures and prioritise the well-being of young people.




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