Higher Rates of Anxiety, Depression Reported Among Minority Children

Research also shows increased prevalence of social risks and unmet social needs.

A study found that racial and ethnic minority children experienced increased rates of anxiety, depression, and social risks during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The study, led by researchers from Boston Medical Center (BMC),1 included 168 caregivers of racially and ethnically diverse children between ages 5 and 11 who had completed screenings for behavioral and emotional risks as part of a well visit at an urban, safety-net pediatric primary care practice before the onset of the pandemic. The pre-pandemic visits occurred between September 2019 and February 2020, and participants were reassessed mid-pandemic between August 2020 and January 2021.2 Of the participating caregivers, 54% identified as non-Hispanic Black and 29% as Hispanic, and 22% did not speak English. Study visits were conducted in 3 languages: English (79%), Haitian Creole (16%), and Spanish (5%). The Pediatric Symptom Checklist (PSC) was used to measure behavioral and emotional symptoms of anxiety and depression, including attention and internalization and externalization of symptoms. Results showed that the rate of both depression and anxiety rose from 5% pre-pandemic to 18% mid-pandemic.1

According to the researchers, the aim of the study was to compare negative symptoms of mental health among urban, racially and ethnically diverse children before and during the pandemic.1 This study is also among the first to include both pre- and mid-pandemic data in research involving urban children.2 “Our fear is that the pandemic has led to a mental health crisis for both caregivers and children following the incredible stressors that COVID-19 has put on families,” said Andrea Spencer, MD, lead author of the study, in a press release. “We specifically looked at our urban and diverse patient population who are already at higher psychosocial risk and also most susceptible to the impacts of the pandemic, therefore raising particular concern for their mental health.”

To this end, the study also analyzed the children and caregivers’ social risk and unmet social needs—including food and housing insecurity, unemployment, difficulty paying bills, and difficulty with dependent care and transportation—pre- and mid-pandemic using BMC’s THRIVE screening tool.2 Higher social risks were reported, with all THRIVE items except for difficulty with transportation being ranked as significantly more prevalent mid-pandemic compared to pre-pandemic. For example, 50% of participants reported food insecurity mid-pandemic compared to 16% pre-pandemic.1

“These findings point to the critical need for public health efforts to mitigate the psychosocial effects of the pandemic on racial and ethnic minority children and communities while searching for solutions to support the increased demand,” said Spencer, who is also an adult, child, and adolescent psychiatrist at BMC and an assistant professor of psychiatry at Boston University School of Medicine, in a press release. “We need new or expanded community-based, school-based, family-based, and trauma-informed treatment and prevention programs to reach the most affected families.”

References

1. New study finds COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated anxiety and depression in racial and ethnic minority children. News Release. Boston Medical Center. December 8, 2021. Accessed December 13, 2021.

2. Spencer AE, Oblath R, Dayal R, et al. Changes in psychosocial functioning among urban, school-age children during the COVID-19 pandemic. Adolesc Psychiatry Ment Health. December 2, 2021;15(73).