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COVID-19 pandemic caused more anxiety and depression among Ohio's kids, new report says

The pandemic increased levels of anxiety and depression among Ohio's children, a new report shows.
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The pandemic increased levels of anxiety and depression among Ohio's children, a new report shows.

As the COVID-19 pandemic drags on an increasing number of Ohio kids are dealing with anxiety and depression, according to a new report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

Anxiety and depression among children ages 3 to 17 was up 26% nationally through the pandemic’s first year, according to this year’s Kids Count Data Book. Ohio saw a 42% increase.

“Children are suffering from mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety more now than they were before the pandemic,” said Kim Eckhart, research manager for the Children’s Defense Fund-Ohio. “Now we have one in nine children in Ohio who have experienced some sort of mental health disorder.”

Chronic absenteeism was also up, while proficiency in reading and math dipped, Eckhart said. Kids would benefit from extending programs introduced during the pandemic like universal free lunch and increasing mental health support at schools, she said.

“I don’t want to go back to the way it was before the pandemic, I think we’ve learned somethings that we can continue and a lot of the measures that were implemented to try to help families should continue beyond,” Eckhart said.

Cleveland Clinic pediatric psychologist Vanessa Jensen said she’s also observed this increase in anxiety and depression among kids in her own practice.

“When kids feel out of sorts like their world is not the way it’s supposed to be, like all of us, they are going to experience distress,” Jensen said.

Students who were at a period of transition, like starting middle or high school for the first time, seem to have experienced even greater anxiety, as did students from marginalized communities, she said.

Many people have experienced distress coupled with the feeling that things didn't work as planned during the pandemic, she said.

“I think that really threw a lot of kids and teens into thinking, 'I can’t predict my own world and I can’t predict the bigger world,” Jensen said. “If grown-ups are having a hard time handling things, how do you expect me as an 8, 10, 12, 15-year-old to cope with this?”

University Hospital’s Pediatrician Dr. David Miller has also noticed more anxious kids and parents asking for referrals at his practice.

“What I’m seeing now is that certainly there is some anxiety continuing regarding the pandemic," he said. "But the focus has kind of shifted and I think the kids are actually sort of experiencing a cumulative stressor anxiety now."

Basically, all the stuff that’s stressing you and me out - the endless stream of new COVID variants, school shootings, monkeypox - are also stressing our kids out, Miller said. A caring community, predictable schedule and limited media exposure — along with schools getting back to normal — should all help reduce kids’ anxiety, he added.
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