Covid-19: Lockdowns saw spike in number of children likely to report depression, says expert

The depressive symptoms were associated with higher food intake and increased screen time, says Dr Mirza, who speaks in a conference in UAE


Lamya Tawfik

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Published: Wed 7 Dec 2022, 3:29 PM

Last updated: Wed 7 Dec 2022, 5:45 PM

Parents who engaged with their children and adolescents during the lockdown successfully mitigated the effects of social distancing, a mental health expert said on Wednesday.

Speaking at the 25th edition of the International Association for Child & Adolescent Psychiatry and Allied Professions (IACAPAP) Congress in 2022, held for the first time in the UAE, Dr. Hassan Mirza, Child Consultant Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist from the Department of Behavioural Medicine at the Sultan Qaboos University Hospital in Muscat, said that these children were less likely to develop depression.

Dr. Mirza shared with attendees the results of a research that was held in Oman which aimed to study the prevalence of depressive symptoms or emotional difficulties among young people during the Covid-19 pandemic and specifically during the lockdown period.

The study showed that 13.9 per cent of children and adolescents exhibited depressive symptoms during Covid-19. “This is higher than what is typical for this age group which is around 2-8 per cent,” said Dr. Mirza.

The study aimed to screen for depressive symptoms during Covid to understand the psychological impact of lockdown and social distancing and to set up a concrete foundation for tailoring relevant mental health services to mitigate the psychological impact of any future pandemic - or any adversity - which could result in difficulties in accessing mental health services efficiently and effectively, explained Dr. Mirza.

The study included 445 participants aged 8 to 18 years old. And nearly 70 per cent of the responses to the online survey were completed by parents. “Approximately 18.9 per cent of children and adolescents had a high probability of depressive symptoms directly from Covid-19 pandemic population,” he said, adding that those who experienced depressive symptoms were the young children who had an increased food intake. “They were 1.8 times more likely to have depression; with it was associated with an increased food intake,” said Dr. Mirza.

The increased use of smart phone was also associated with the development of depressive symptoms. “They were 2.7 times more likely to develop depressive symptoms with an increased screen time,” he said.


“Not too long ago, mood disorders like depression were considered adult disorders and this is because of a long-standing belief in the past that children are too immature from a cognitive and developmental point of view to experience the core symptoms of a depressive disorder in general,” he said adding that studies from past decade, however, showed that they are common during childhood and adolescence.

He said that mood disorders pose a high risk of self-harming behaviour especially during adolescence. “It effects school performance and it causes high risk of substance abuse,” he said.

When it comes to the Covid 19 lockdown, Dr. Mirza said that there was a plethora of studies which looked into the psychological effects of the lockdown and that these started to emerge as soon as the pandemic was announced. “There were high scores related to depression, anxiety and emotional difficulties. All mental health difficulties were prevalent and high during the lock down,” he said.

The difficulty of online learning has also affected children, according to Dr. Mirza. “Some schools were able to deliver online learning, but it wasn’t as effective. Also, children who have difficulties with attention and behavioral issues were difficult to get engaged when it comes to learning online,” he said.

He said that depressive symptoms can be prevented at the early stages of a pandemic or adversity – by identifying the risk factors and formulating a psychological intervention for vulnerable groups. “One thing that could be done is to have a proper platform and infrastructure to access services and educational material,” he said.

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