The new roaring twenties will be the consequence of the adolescent mental health problems that have developed during the pandemic. The increase in consultations for anxiety, depression and self-harm worries Spanish pediatricians who make a call to warn about the emotional health of minors. The covid-19 pandemic has generated a large number of consequences on the health of society. However, the early stages are especially vulnerable, due to the many changes that children have in short periods of time.
The repercussions of the pandemic on the mental health of children and adolescents is one of the most important issues that were addressed during the II Digital Congress of the AEP, which brought together nearly 3,500 pediatricians. During the week of the congress, the consequences for the child and adolescent population of covid-19 and the measures adopted to control it were discussed. “Children and adolescents represent only 1% of the cases of COVID infection, but the consequences of the pandemic have also been felt in them in the form of learning difficulties and mental health problems, associated with confinement, social isolation and the deterioration of living conditions in many Spanish homes ”, affirmed María José Mellado, president of the AEP.
At the opening of the congress, Azucena Díez, president of the Society of Child Psychiatry of the AEP (SPI-AEP), assured that “in primary care pediatric services and referrals to mental health, there has been an increase in the number of consultations for anxiety, obsessive-compulsive symptoms, depression, self-harm and somatizations ”. In addition, he adds, “the eating disorders that are being assessed are more serious and require more income than before the pandemic.”
Many of these symptoms are consequences, according to the doctors, of uncertainty, excess news, social and family distancing, the absence of routines, the abuse of screens, irregular sleep rhythms and a less healthy eating pattern. “To this must be added the economic difficulties and the reconciliation of work with family care, and the possible situations of own illness, of close relatives or even the mourning for the death of loved ones that many families are living as a result of the covid- 19 ”, explains Díez.
Pediatricians warn about the importance of making all possible efforts in order to reduce this stress and prevent psychological difficulties from becoming chronic over time, leading to more serious psychopathologies.
At first, confinement could come to be experienced as an adventure, in which children appreciated not going to school or spending more time with their parents, and adolescents felt freer to be able to consume more hours on the Internet. However, “problems such as apathy, restlessness, boredom, concentration difficulties, insomnia or excessive fear soon began to appear,” says the specialist.
The pandemic has caused that the time dedicated to the screens has increased in a very striking way due to the isolation and the lack of stimuli. “One of the most effective measures to avoid addictive behaviors is to guarantee access to healthy alternative activities. When children and adolescents have the opportunity to spend time outdoors with their peers and do sports and leisure activities, the time spent on screens is significantly reduced ”, says Dr. Díez.
Adolescents are a very susceptible group to develop problems related to dependence on internet access devices, which has been linked to various psychiatric problems such as social anxiety, depression and attention problems, as well as a less healthy diet and a higher level of sedentary lifestyle, overweight and obesity. However, before the pandemic, important data were already handled in reference to the mental health of children and adolescents, such as that almost half of mental disorders began before the age of 14 or that 10% of younger children 12 years and 20% of adolescents develop some type of mental disorder at some point.
The consumption of toxins, such as alcohol or cannabis, has been more difficult, although not impossible, during confinement, says the expert. However, despite the fact that consultations for reasons related to consumption in minors had fallen significantly, they are already matching data from other years. “Some experts predict, based on historical phenomena, that it is likely that in the next two or three years there will be a sharp increase in all types of consumption in young people, which is being called The New Roaring Twenties, denounces the president of the SPI.
In order to minimize the psychological consequences of the pandemic, pediatricians have released the SPI-AEP position document during Congress, which includes a series of measures designed to promote a healthy lifestyle and, consequently, the reduction of the psychological impact of the pandemic by covid-19 in children and adolescents such as: promoting leisure activities and especially sports, with the permanent opening of playgrounds, sports centers and other organized activities for children and adolescents, guarantee the complete incorporation into the school for all ages, in each of the autonomous communities and improve the coordination systems between the primary care teams (pediatricians and primary care physicians who treat adolescents) and the mental health services, as well as the accessibility to the latter.