Addressing the mental health fallout from the pandemic

The prolonged period of stress and trauma from the COVID-19 pandemic could result in long-term and pervasive mental health effects, according to Archana Basu of Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Pandemic-related mental health problems could include increased rates of severe anxiety, depression, and self-injuring behaviors, said Basu, a clinical psychologist at Massachusetts General Hospital and a research scientist in Harvard Chan School’s Department of Epidemiology, in a Q&A in the New Yorker on March 30, 2021. Among kids, there could be additional issues such as sleep- and weight-related problems, irritability, anger, lack of motivation for school, or lack of desire to connect with others, she said.

One of the best buffers for children is a supportive caregiving environment, with adults helping provide routines and structures, according to Basu. “Having that sense of stability and predictability—it’s true for all ages, but kids really benefit from that,” she said.

Basu said she hopes that the mental health fallout from the pandemic will spur improvements in a system that was already “really close to capacity or at capacity” when the pandemic began. She noted that telemedicine visits for mental health care during the pandemic have helped make care more accessible to a broader group of people. She also hopes that mental health care will become part of routine preventive care for both children and adults.

“The conversation about emotional health is relevant for everyone,” she said. “That is perhaps one of the silver linings…of this otherwise terrible experience: the idea that emotional health is important and central to health is now more common than ever, and it reduces the stigma around it.”

Read the New Yorker article: Recovering From the Emotional Challenges of the Pandemic

Learn more

We’re better off when kids are resilient (Harvard Chan School podcast)

Kids may face mental health issues as school begins amid pandemic (Harvard Chan School feature)