Pandemic accelerated youth mental health crisis

July 29, 2022 – The COVID-19 pandemic dramatically accelerated a decline in youth mental health in the U.S. Several experts from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health commented about the crisis in a July-August, 2022, Harvard Magazine article.

COVID’s effect on children’s mental health depends on a range of factors including age, family circumstances, pre-existing conditions, and innate susceptibility, said Jack Shonkoff, Julius B. Richmond FAMRI professor of child health and development and director of the Center for the Developing Child. While more children are experiencing serious mental health problems, many are resilient and will come through the pandemic okay, he said.

Christy Denckla, assistant professor of social and behavioral sciences, noted that behavior that may seem negative may actually be a helpful short-term coping mechanism. “Sometimes acting out is a way of expressing an emotion or grappling with a stressor,” she said.

Already inadequately staffed and funded, the mental health system has been unable to address the influx of children needing help. But Karestan Koenen, professor of psychiatric epidemiology, noted that simply expanding the traditional medical system won’t be enough to fix the crisis. “We’re never going to have a system where each child who has a mental health problem has an individual therapist,” she said.

“The focus needs to shift up toward preventative care and secondary and early intervention,” said Archana Basu, research scientist in the Department of Epidemiology and a clinical psychologist at Massachusetts General Hospital. There is no going back to a pre-pandemic “normal,” she said.

Read the Harvard Magazine article: “No Going Back to Normal”