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October 5, 2021

Pediatric Depression and Anxiety Doubled During the Pandemic

JAMA. 2021;326(13):1246. doi:10.1001/jama.2021.16374

A meta-analysis has suggested that childhood and adolescent depression and anxiety doubled during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The report in JAMA Pediatrics included 29 studies involving 80 879 participants with an average age of 13 years. More than half of the studies were from East Asia, and the remainder were from North America, Europe, Central and South America, and the Middle East.

The pooled prevalence estimate was 25.2% for depression symptoms and 20.5% for generalized anxiety symptoms. Prior to the pandemic, an estimated 12.9% of youth had depression symptoms and 11.6% had generalized anxiety symptoms.

Girls had higher rates of depression and anxiety symptoms than boys in the new analysis. Depression symptoms also were higher in studies from later in the pandemic and among older adolescents.

The authors advised family physicians and pediatricians to screen children for mental health issues. They also recommended that families observe consistent routines for schoolwork, sleep, screen use, and physical activity during the pandemic. Closing schools and recreational activities should be a strategy of “last resort,” they wrote.

Interventions such as group and individual telemedicine mental health services are needed for children and adolescents struggling with depression and anxiety during the pandemic, according to the authors.