Recently invited to deliver a Lager Lecture at McMaster University, Children’s Health Policy Director Charlotte Waddell spoke on Children’s Mental Health and COVID-19.
Speaking via Zoom on Feb. 24, Waddell began by describing the high level of children’s mental health needs prior to the pandemic.
Following the pandemic, she said, it’s expected that prolonged disruptions and diverted public resources will lead to additional hardships. Worldwide, somewhere between 42 and 46 million more children are expected to fall into extreme poverty with reduced access to basic healthcare, food and vaccines.
As well, she noted, school closures imposed by nearly 200 countries have affected 85 per cent — or 1.4 billion children — worldwide.
Citing a 2020 conclusion from the United Nations Waddell said, “Children are not the face of this pandemic but they risk being among its biggest victims.” It will be most damaging for those who are already experiencing the most disadvantage, she added.
Addressing the issue of cost, Waddell pointed out that 94 percent of provincial health budgets in Canada go to hospitals, drugs and physicians while only six percent goes to public health, including prevention.
“That low figure towards public health gives us a couple of clues about why we’ve had to scramble to respond to COVID,” she said — arguing that where government is prepared to spend more money on public health, it can realize great savings. In the US, for example, preventing just one case of a severe childhood problem such as conduct disorder can yield savings of more than $8 million CAD over a lifetime.
Waddell was invited to give the speech as a recent inductee to McMaster University’s Alumni Gallery. Waddell earned her MD from McMaster where she completed residencies in Family Medicine and Psychiatry. In 2006, she was recruited by SFU to take up the Canada Research Chair in Children’s Health Policy, Tier 2, and to become director of the Children’s Health Policy Centre.
The roughly 30-minute speech was followed by a lively question and answer session. The whole video may be viewed here.
February 22, 2021
Children are not the immediate face of COVID-19, but they are the face of its future.
That is the key message of a recent article in the Globe and Mail newspaper, co-authored by Children’s Health Policy director Charlotte Waddell.
Written with senior academics from McMaster University, the Toronto Hospital for Sick Children and the University of Ottawa, the piece argues that unlike other countries, Canada does not have a national long-term study of children and youth. The need for such evidence on childhood health and well-being was urgent before COVID-19 and is even more urgent now.
But there is also some coincidental good news. Statistics Canada conducted a survey on children and youth in 2019, which means there are pre-pandemic data about how children were doing before COVID-19. (This survey involved a nationally, representative sample of more than 42,000 children aged 1 to 17 years across the country.)
The article argues that, “investing in a comprehensive follow-up survey represents our best opportunity to obtain accurate information about how the pandemic is affecting all Canadian children, and how some are being disproportionately affected.”
Such a follow up survey would also create a unique opportunity to assess how COVID-19′s impact may have differed across provinces and territories. As a result, it could also assess the impact of various public health and policy responses.
February 12, 2021
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Canada has a unique opportunity to be a world leader in children’s mental health, according to Charlotte Waddell, director of the Children’s Health Policy Centre.
Speaking in an interview with the CBC public affairs radio program The House, Waddell said that nearly 800,000 Canadian children are already coping with mental disorders and this will only worsen with the pandemic.
Based on evidence from previous public health disasters, such as SARS and floods, “we anticipate the needs will increase dramatically — perhaps two to tenfold,” she said. In particular, anxiety, behaviour problems, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are all expected to increase.
But the good news is that Statistics Canada recently completed a high-quality survey of 45,000 children, just before the pandemic began. According to Waddell, this “trove of pre-pandemic data” gives us the opportunity to repeat the survey to compare pre- and post-pandemic numbers.
Such analysis will lead to better, more strategic support for children. “We have an ethical imperative to act,” Waddell says. “And if we don’t act, we run the risk of causing damage to a generation of kids.”
The complete interview with The House can be heard here.
November 12, 2020
COVID-19 will have significant mental health consequences for B.C. children and youth, according to a report authored by the Children’s Health Policy Centre and released Nov. 12/20.
The report concludes that the pandemic creates a critical need for government to invest in B.C.’s over-stretched and underfunded child and youth mental health services system.
Sponsored by the BC Office of the Representative for Children and Youth, the report reviews several studies on mental health outcomes for children and youth after earlier pandemics and natural disasters. This research identifies the mental health challenges children and youth can be expected to experience during and after COVID-19, including anxiety, post-traumatic stress, depression and behavioural problems.
The report indicates that because untreated mental health problems can persist, even extending into adulthood if left untreated, supports for children and youth will significantly reduce future costs.
The report also finds that some children and youth may be disproportionately affected, including those with neuro-diverse needs, pre-existing mental health conditions, youth in foster care and those affected by adversities such as socioeconomic disadvantage and racism. It also finds that COVID-19 may particularly affect Indigenous peoples, who disproportionately experience harms related to colonialism such as unsafe housing, lack of access to clean water and extreme food insecurity – conditions that the report recognizes as putting children’s mental health at risk.
“This report underlines the importance of addressing mental health issues in the early stages,” says Representative for Children and Youth Jennifer Charlesworth. “The data indicates that children do well when their communities have more socioeconomic resources… Clearly, community and family health play significant roles in child and youth mental health, and that is what we need to be supporting.”
Families who were in more precarious economic situations before COVID-19 are now facing many added difficulties, according to Charlotte Waddell, director of the Children’s Health Policy Centre and the lead author of the report.
“We found that children who experience socioeconomic inequalities are much more likely to develop emotional and behavioural concerns,” says Waddell. “The pandemic has the potential to amplify inequalities – in turn putting less advantaged children at even greater risk for mental health concerns.”
The full report may be found here.
June 26, 2020
The COVID-19 public health crisis has introduced new and urgent mental health challenges for children across British Columbia.
As a result, the BC Representative for Children and Youth, Jennifer Charlesworth, asked the Children’s Health Policy Centre (CHPC) to prepare a “Rapid Response” report on effective approaches for reducing childhood anxiety.
Published today, the report identifies two interventions that can be delivered by practitioners virtually and three that can be self-administered by children and families themselves.
“We know it is crucial to address anxiety symptoms and disorders early to ensure they don’t persist into adulthood,” Charlesworth said. “Help cannot wait until the pandemic is over.”
Nearly 45,000 children in B.C. were estimated to have anxiety disorders, before COVID-19, according to Charlotte Waddell, director of the CHPC. “Our new report confirms there are many effective ways for practitioners, caregivers and families to prevent and reduce anxiety during these challenging times,” she said.
Read the entire report here.