Social Isolation and Children’s Mental Health

30 Jun by HPA/LiveWell Clinical Psychology, COVID 19

Social isolation and children’s mental health is a topic that may have gone under the radar in recent months, as it is difficult to predict the impact that COVID-19 may have had on the mental health of children and young people. However, recent research suggests that disease containment measures may result in feelings of loneliness in children and adolescents, and therefore subsequent mental health problems. School is a child’s main base for social engagement, and in recent months they have been denied this developmentally vital opportunity. Thus, it is crucial to devise strategies which help mitigate the growth of mental health problems caused by isolation, and the implementation of these should be considered a priority both during and post lock-down.

If you are concerned about the link between social isolation and children’s mental health, then we at HPA/LiveWell in Albany, NY, can help to advise you on the best strategies and treatment plans for your child’s symptoms.

Effects of Isolation

Humans are inherently social beings, and for a child or adolescent, school is the prevalent social arena. Social isolation has resulted in limited to no interaction with peers, and therefore the possible loss of a social network. This may result in mental health problems such as depression. Whereas there are limited studies which examine the specific link between social isolation and children’s mental health due to COVID-19, there are studies which research the outcomes of absence due to long-term illness on mental health.

In a quantitative study of adolescents aged between 13-19 years, researchers at the Norwegian Social Research Institute (NOVA) found that youths with limited close friendships reported a more significant occurrence of depressive symptoms than those with close friends. Furthermore, in a similar study conducted at NOVA, it was found that ‘social support from friends’ and ‘spending time with friends’ were the strongest protective factors against mental health difficulties such as depression. Therefore, it is clear that social isolation is an issue of high importance and should be treated as such post-lock-down.

Social Isolation and Depression

Social isolation and children’s mental health leads us to the link between loneliness and mental health. Loneliness can have grave influences on physical, mental, and cognitive health, as perceived loneliness can cause adverse health conditions such as anxiety and depression. However, personality traits may play a role in whether a child experiences depression as a result of social isolation, as socially isolated children and adolescents do not necessarily experience loneliness. Previous research has found that those who do experience loneliness as a result of isolation are more likely to become depressed. There may, therefore, be the need for interventions which aim to increase social connections in a post-lock-down environment, and also ones which focus on the subjective feelings of loneliness.

Signs of Depression in Children

As depression is linked to social isolation, it is vital to address the symptoms early in order to reduce the impact on a child’s life and prevent it from turning into a long-term problem. Therefore, it may be helpful to recognize the symptoms of depression:

Signs of depression in children include:

  • A persistent low affect or mood.
  • Being irritable or grumpy.
  • Feeling tired/exhausted a lot of the time.
  • Lack of interest in things that they used to enjoy previously.

Other symptoms may include:

  • Difficulty concentrating.
  • Lack of contact with family.
  • Trouble sleeping or sleeping more than usual.
  • Lack of confidence.
  • Changes in weight.
  • Eating less or overeating.
  • Speaking about feeling useless or worthless.
  • Feelings of emptiness or numbness.
  • Thoughts about self-harm or suicide.
  • Actions of self-harm.

It is worth noting that anxiety and depression tend to be present simultaneously; therefore, your child may experience both. If you are concerned that your child is demonstrating depressive symptoms due to social isolation, then it may be helpful to understand the treatment options available to them. For further advice on social isolation and children’s mental health, or to learn about the other mental health services provided at HPA/LiveWell in Albany, NY, contact us at 518-218-1188.