by Brandon Mayer, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
There is no doubt that local children and youth have been through a lot in the last two years. Few people alive today had ever lived through a pandemic of COVID-19’s magnitude before 2020. The youth who are living through the current pandemic have had much less of their lives to develop a foundational understanding of what is “normal” during non-pandemic times. It is impossible to know what may have driven recent incidents, such as reported increased rates of discrimination against LGBT2QS+ individuals in downtown Kemptville, and a slew of vandalism incidents in Winchester and Chesterville, but it is possible that such incidents are related to new pandemic mental health challenges.
A recently released Statistics Canada report analyzing death data from March, 2020, to May, 2021, makes for startling reading. There were over 19,000 “excess deaths” – which refers to deaths that would not statistically be expected, but not all of them were caused by COVID-19 infections. A statistically significant number of deaths in younger Canadians were caused by unintentional poisoning and overdoses, suggesting that at least some younger Canadians are finding the impacts of the pandemic to be overwhelming, and are turning to substances to cope. Many of these people are socially or economically disadvantaged, meaning that they disproportionately feel the impacts of pandemic restrictions.
The scope of the pandemic’s impact on children and youth is one that was studied by The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) during the first wave of the pandemic. What they found was shocking. Over 66% of children 2-5 years old, and over 70% of youth 6-18 years old, were found to have experienced a worsening of at least one facet of mental illness during the first wave of COVID-19. These facets included depression, anxiety, irritability, attention span, hyperactivity, and obsessions/compulsions. The study’s recommendation was clear – the mental health impacts of the pandemic should be considered just as much as the health risks of the virus itself.
Another SickKids study measured the impact from the loss of in-person schooling during the pandemic, and similarly found that the impacts were profound. One major point arising from the study is: “The bottom line – kids need school, friends, and fun.”
Area children and youth are currently experiencing their fourth lengthy school closure in two years, and have also gone through several cycles of losing and gaining options for recreation. At points last year, playgrounds, baseball diamonds, and basketball courts were all closed. Indoor recreation centres have been shuttered on and off. Even places that provide comfort to adults and youth alike, such as restaurants, have experienced several closures. Until the pandemic is over, and perhaps even for years afterword, local youth will need guidance, support, and a whole lot of patience.
Parents wishing to access free mental health supports for their children, including counselling, are encouraged to contact their child’s school principal directly as free third party services are usually offered in conjuction with local hospitals