Children’s Loneliness Has Long Term Mental Health Impact, Says Study
Loneliness is not a feeling unique to older people. A study published the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry has stated that children ages 4 to 21 experiencing loneliness could be three times more likely to develop depression later in life than those who don’t experience the feeling.
Led by the University of Bath, along with researchers from University of Bristol, University College London, Universities of Reading and Edinburgh, the current study has drawn conclusions based on 60 pre-existing, peer-reviewed studies that looked into topics such as isolation, loneliness and mental health of young people.
“From our analysis, it is clear there are strong associations between loneliness and depression in young people, both in the immediate and the longer-term,” said Dr. Maria Loades, lead author and clinical psychologist from the Department of Psychology at Bristol Medical School. “We know this effect can sometimes be lagged, meaning it can take up to 10 years to really understand the scale of the mental health impact the covid-19 crisis has created,” she added.
According to the authors, the study provides evidence that the duration of loneliness should be considered more important than its intensity, because duration seems to have a bigger impact on depression rates.
The need for early recognition for symptoms of loneliness or depression becomes even more important given that the lockdown has left children and young adults deprived of opportunities to socialize. This could cause a surge in cases of mental health issues such as anxiety, paranoia, and stress. Therefore the authors have warned health services to stay prepared while also urging teachers and policymakers to take heed of the findings and start thinking of ways to mitigate feelings of loneliness.
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In India, as at least 253 million adolescents are missing school and social interaction due to lockdown. The mental health consequences, “could far surpass the immediate health and economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, leaving long-term social and economic consequences in its wake,” states UNICEF.
Paying inadequate attention to loneliness could not only promote poor emotional health in children, but also kickstart a broader cycle that leads to poorer educational attainment. “[That will be] a considerable economic burden,” the authors concluded.