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Children's Health & Wellness

COVID-19 Crisis Leaves Deep Mark on Children’s Mental Health

Children’s mental health in Canada has been a topic of concern over the past few decades, but the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic have intensified these worries across the country.

While the health crisis posed immediate risks that required correspondingly immediate mitigation efforts, a growing awareness of the longer-term effects these efforts may have had on children’s well-being raises concerns, particularly through the lens of the limited opportunities afforded to socialize and play.

There is a strong correlation between isolation and decreasing mental health. At the height of the pandemic, school closures and physical distancing measures led to a significant decline in opportunities to socialize and engage with friends and classmates.

And, while schools were generally able to pivot to an online delivery system, the social opportunities became fewer due to a relative lack of peripheral activities, including extracurricular activities and team sports. Physical activity and a sense of belonging in the community, of course, are both intrinsically linked to mental well-being.

A 2021 study by Toronto-based pediatric teaching hospital, Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids), found that 58 per cent of its respondents participated in sports and other extracurriculars, compared to 27 per cent in sports and 16 per cent in extracurriculars during the second wave of the pandemic.

Additionally, excessive screen time has a known negative correlation with sleep patterns. With so much time spent in virtual classrooms, on social media and on forms of entertainment including television and video games, this provided yet another area of concern that led not only to anxiety, but also contributed to depression, irritability, and inattention.

Pandemic mitigation efforts, while generally well-intentioned and designed to stifle the spread of a highly transmissible virus, nevertheless played an important role in disrupting critical aspects of growing up. Lost opportunities for social interaction mean less opportunities to develop critical life skills including problem-solving, self-esteem building and communication skills.

As we observe the impacts of these closures, it is important that we keep an eye toward the future and focus on addressing the challenges these developmental delays may bring.

Mental health education, already a topic of critical importance, needs to be placed at the forefront of our schools and communities. Children must be provided with opportunities to better understand their emotions and how to handle stress as it arises. Open communication, active listening, and understanding must be prioritized as we move forward.

A concerted effort from all parties — parents, educators, and communities — will be required to help mitigate the longer-term effects and put our children in a better position to succeed. Let us do our part by providing education, support, and access to mental health services to help children adjust to the challenges they face. Above all, we must be clear in letting them know that this is not a struggle they’re expected to go through alone.

The Canada Safety Council is an independent, knowledge-based, charitable organization dedicated to the cause of safety. We provide national leadership in safety through information, education and collaboration. Learn more about the Canada Safety Council at

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