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Michael Brodsky, MD, Medical Director for Behavioral Health and Social Services, L.A. Care Health Plan

Debunking the Fallacy that Kids Aren’t Seriously Affected by COVID-19

By Michael Brodsky, MD
Medical Director for Behavioral Health and Social Services
L.A. Care Health Plan

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Original Publish Date: February 9, 2021

From the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have heard that children are less affected by the virus, but that is far from the truth. Yes, most kids and teens infected by COVID-19 suffer less severe symptoms, and have the lowest mortality rate, but they are not immune from COVID-19’s consequences. In fact, children and teens have experienced a quadruple whammy during the pandemic.

First, with the rising number of cases and deaths, many children have lost grandparents or other important adults in their lives. Losing that loved one is hard enough, but in most cases, they were never able to say a proper goodbye. In addition, the grieving process, which could usually include hugs from other relatives, was far less likely in a time of social distancing.

Second, kids and teens have sorely missed the in-person education that stopped last spring. So far, there is no clear sign when kids might return to school. Kids and teens have largely been cut off from teachers, athletic coaches, and school counselors who are important sources of ongoing support. Video and telephone interaction does not fully compensate for the loss. On top of that, for all kids, the loss of the opportunity to socialize with peers has been profound and isolating.

This brings us to the third serious impact kids and teens have suffered during the pandemic. Most children have been largely confined in their homes for nearly a year with only their parents and siblings, if they are lucky enough to have some. The added family time has been a positive for many kids, but for others the additional time together has led to increased frustrations, frayed nerves, and an increased potential for domestic discord or violence. This is particularly concerning for youth who live in unstable, chaotic, or abusive households.

The fourth blow the pandemic has dealt many kids and teens involves economics. Widespread loss of employment has led to marked increases in housing insecurity, food insecurity, and income insecurity. Kids are not immune or blind to these family stressors.

This quadruple whammy has increased stress for all kids and has increased the risks of serious mental health issues in kids and teens. In fact, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report found that mental health-related emergency department visits increased for children between April and October of last year, as the stress of the pandemic continued to mount. It is going to be important for parents to continue to monitor their children for any indicators of mental health issues as the pandemic persists.

If parents are concerned for their kids, the first step is to ask them what is going on. Sometimes children will be bothered by something that parents don’t know about, like hurtful comments from teachers or peers or on social media. If parents are worried that their child may hurt themselves or someone else, they should call 911 immediately. Also, parents who are concerned should not hesitate to reach out to their child’s primary care provider. If there is no primary care provider, then contacting your county mental health hotline is a good next step. The primary care provider or the county hotline might be able to help with coping skills.

Of course, doctors have a saying that, “When a patient ‘crashes,” the first pulse that you should check is your own.’ In other words, before you can help someone else, it’s important to check your own wellness. For that reason, parents of struggling kids may want to check their own stress levels and mental health as a first step. Additional sources of help include the national Crisis Text Line (text HOME to 741741), the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800-273-8255), and the National Alliance for Mental Illness. Al-Anon and Nar-Anon are good options for parents concerned about substance abuse.

It has been a quadruple whammy, but children are resilient, as long as they are given the support needed to adapt and improvise during this challenging time. As parents, we wish our children didn’t have to see such suffering, and didn’t have to live through such disruption, but we can help them find ways to get through this and hopefully, grow into stronger adults.