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Pandemic led to a surge in mental health disorders among children and teenagers, says study.

Mental Health Disorders Among Children and Teenagers Spike During COVID-19 Pandemic

The Journal of the American Medical Association published a study this week revealing that mental health disorders among children and teenagers significantly increased during the COVID-19 pandemic, with teenage girls being the most at risk.

The study analyzed records from commercial insurance companies of over 1.7 million patients between the ages of 6 and 18, categorizing insurance coding into anxiety, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorders, depression, and eating disorders. Each demographic category saw an increase in all four categories from January 2018 to March 2022.

Teenage Girls at Highest Risk

Girls aged 13 to 18 were found to be the most vulnerable population, with an immediate increase in the prevalence of all four diagnosed mental health conditions from October 2020 to March 2022. Eating disorders among teenage girls more than doubled during the pandemic, while the other age and sex categories saw an upward trend for eating disorders from before the pandemic.

The Youth Risk Behavior Survey released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in February found that 57% of high school girls felt persistently sad or hopeless in 2021, with 30% of female respondents having seriously contemplated suicide.

Possible Causes

The study’s authors did not provide a causal mechanism that explains the rise in mental health disorders among children and teenagers, but they advised policy analysts to examine the effects of social isolation and social media on youth mental health. Some theorize that children and teenagers were particularly vulnerable to loneliness due to school closures during the pandemic.

Increasing time spent on electronic devices and social media could also contribute to this trend. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy issued an advisory against social media, highlighting that eighth through 10th graders spend an average of 3.5 hours per day on social media sites, with 14% of youths in this age bracket spending over seven hours per day on various platforms.

New York University psychologist Jonathan Haidt has suggested that image-based social media, such as Instagram and TikTok, used more heavily by females, could explain the higher rates of mental health concerns among teenage girls, including body dysmorphia issues.

Addressing the Issue

The Biden administration recently announced a plan to increase access to mental healthcare resources in public K-12 education. It is crucial to address this public health crisis and provide support to those who need it.

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