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Longitudinal increases in childhood depression symptoms during the COVID-19 lockdown
BIGNARDI, G., DALMAIJER, E., ANWYL-IRVINE, A., SMITH, T., SIUGZDAITE, R., UH, S., ASTLE, D.
Archives of Disease in Childhood
Year of publication:
Objective There has been widespread concern that so-called ‘lockdown’ measures, including social distancing and school closures, could negatively impact children’s mental health. However, there has been little direct evidence of any association due to the paucity of longitudinal studies reporting mental health before and during the lockdown. This present study provides the first longitudinal examination of changes in childhood mental health, a key component of an urgently needed evidence base that can inform policy and practice surrounding the continuing response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Methods Mental health assessments on 168 children (aged 7.6-11.6 years) were taken before and during the UK lockdown (April-June 2020). Assessments included self-reports, caregiver-reports, and teacher-reports. Mean mental health scores before and during the UK lockdown were compared using mixed linear models. Results A significant increase in depression symptoms during the UK lockdown was observed, as measured by the RCADS short form. Confidence intervals suggest a medium-to-large effect size. There were no significant changes in RCADS anxiety subscale and SDQ emotional problems subscale. Conclusions During the UK lockdown children’s depression symptoms have increased substantially, relative to before lockdown. The scale of this effect has direct relevance for the continuation of different elements of lockdown policy, such as complete or partial school closures. This early evidence for the direct impact of lockdown must now be combined with larger-scale epidemiological studies that establish which children are most at risk, and tracks their future recovery.