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.
April 23, 2020
The Faculty of Health Sciences at Simon Fraser University has created a brief video offering parents advice on how to help children cope with COVID-19.
The video features Charlotte Waddell, director of the Children’s Health Policy Centre, who says that physical distancing doesn’t have to mean loss of connections.
She suggests that parents help children by:
• Getting help themselves when needed to manage stress and to help kids maintain healthy routines
• Encouraging kids to stay connected with friends and family using social networks and the phone
• Remembering how COVID19 affects some children and families more than others
• Thinking of ways to be helping others, which in turn contributes to resilience
“Social connections are crucial for children, as they are for adults,” Waddell says. For more information on specific steps parents and caregivers can take to support kids in the time of COVID-19, go here.
March 23, 2020
The COVID-19 public health emergency is putting a lot of pressure on parents, caregivers and others who work with children. They must explain challenging concepts to help children manage their fears and keep routines as stable as possible.
To assist with these challenges, we offer the following suggestions:
- Create situations for children to comfortably ask questions at their own pace. Answer questions honestly using concepts that children can easily understand. For example, explain that the new coronavirus is one of many different types of viruses, like the ones that cause colds. And be ready to repeat your answers as children may re-ask the same questions as a way to gain reassurance.
- Help children manage their fears by modelling calmness and by providing accurate information. This can include explaining the steps you are taking to keep them healthy and safe. (See sidebar, below.) It may also involve highlighting the many actions that community members are taking to protect everyone. And avoid letting children be exposed to media sources that could unnecessarily increase their anxiety.
- Maintain children’s regular routines as much as possible. Fun activities, like playing outdoors and bike riding, are still possible even with physical distancing. Similarly, technology can help with other important activities like play dates and connecting with grandparents.
- Encourage children to think about ways they can help others. This could include, for example, helping neighbours who may need things delivered to their doors, sending positive messages to loved ones who may not be near, or communicating with other children about doing schoolwork together, remotely.
Our sidebar, below, gives helpful resources for parents and families. For children who are experiencing more severe anxiety, the book Helping Your Anxious Child may be particularly useful. (Many local bookstores are offering free shipping for online and phone orders.) The book provides guidance to parents of school-age children on ways to teach cognitive-behavioural strategies to reduce anxiety, including recognizing worries and changing the thinking that encourages them.
Collectively, we have faced serious challenges in the past — including wars, 9/11 and wildfires. We will weather this latest crisis as well, with strong public health leadership and with the support of everyone who cares for and works with children.
Resources for parents and families
New resources to help children — and their parents or caregivers — cope with COVID are being developed rapidly. These include:
- a comic explaining the virus and how to keep safe
- a silent video showing good handwashing techniques
- a new book on handwashing aimed at kids
- a webpage highlighting relaxation exercises
- Seven support strategies to meet the unique needs of children on the Autism Spectrum
- General information on COVID and kids from Canada’s pediatricians
- COVID info sheets — in more than 30 languages
- Info on how to support youth with anxiety disorders
- The CARD system for coping with fears and anxieties