Coronavirus may be causing depression and anxiety in both adults and children. And, as many Americans enter their sixth month of social distancing, many people are feeling the effects of the coronavirus pandemic now more than ever. In order to safeguard public health, people have had to stay home, wear masks, and generally limit their exposure to other people. And while these preventative measures have undoubtedly saved lives, that doesn’t mean that anyone has made it this far unscathed.
Across the board, researchers have noticed startling trends in how different age groups are reacting to the coronavirus pandemic. And this information is key, because understanding how COVID is affecting us and our loved ones is the first step in compensating for these new feelings and improving communication and collective mental well-being.
So how is COVID affecting different age groups? Let’s take a look at what the experts are saying.
How the Pandemic Affects Children
It’s easy to believe that children are immune to the effects of the pandemic. After all, most of us have felt the stress of career changes, financial distress, and the inability to travel, all of which are singularly adult experiences. But just because children don’t experience the effects of the pandemic in the same way that adults do does not mean that they are unaffected.
For example, many children have had no or limited exposure to their friends for nearly half a year. In March and April, many schools abruptly transferred to online learning, and children found themselves stuck at home every day of the week. All of this has led to both feelings of isolation as well as uncertainty. After all, children have vague understandings of the “adult world” as it is, and the coronavirus pandemic looms as a scary, ever-present part of that world.
Of course, just like children vary wildly in stages of development, their reactions to the coronavirus pandemic are just as varied, according to the Psychiatric Times. In children ages four to seven, for instance, children may regress or display signs of stress. The tentative consensus among researchers appears to be that children at this age may not fully understand the pandemic, but they can see and feel the changes occurring in their own lives. And this poses a real problem, as these early years are critical in long-term child development.
In slightly older children, ages seven through 10, anxiety and stress seem to mostly be picked up from parents. Put simply, if parents seem distressed and fearful of the pandemic, their children are likely to pick up on and replicate those emotions. For this reason, the best thing to do may be to calmly establish social distancing guidelines and practices for your family. This way, your children can minimize their risk of infection without feeling that kind of distress.
At ages 10 to 13, children tend to struggle academically as a response to stress. Routines are very useful for children in this stage of development, and the widespread disruption of the pandemic can cause them to struggle academically or lose emotional outlets. Implementing a daily structure can be an effective strategy in reducing these feelings of unease; for example, giving dedicated times to work, relaxation, and other activities.
Finally, children ages 14 to 17 are more likely to understand the realities of a pandemic and be informed on the subject independently of their parents. Unfortunately, this also means they react more like adults, with feelings of depression or lethargy. At this age, it’s best to have honest conversations with children about why their lives need to be put on hold temporarily. This cannot solve everything, but being on the same page as a family can make it much easier to navigate these new, unwanted feelings.
Of course, there’s more to adult reactions to COVID than depression or a loss of energy. Let’s take a look at how young to middle-aged adults are handling the pandemic.
How Adults React to COVID Restrictions
As mentioned above, many adults have reacted to the pandemic with depression and exhaustion. In fact, as of July of this year, 53% of adults reported that coronavirus had negatively impacted mental health. Of course, those negative feelings are not limited solely to depression.
Millions of people are facing unexpected unemployment, and financial stress is becoming increasingly common. As you might expect, all of this has culminated in newfound anxiety symptoms for a lot of people. And even among people who have been fortunate enough to remain employed, many industries are facing uncertainty right now, and that stress can lead to feelings of self-doubt or anxiety in nearly every working adult.
Unfortunately, adults are reacting to the pandemic with more than just depression and anxiety.
Even among people who have never displayed signs of a substance use disorder, COVID may be leading to a spike in substance abuse. As people feel uncertain about their futures, unable to provide for their loved ones, and distanced from their friends and extended family, they can easily turn to drugs or alcohol as a means to temporarily lessen these negative feelings.
And while many locations are experiencing increases in overdose rates, this news is especially troubling. For that reason, if you notice yourself or a loved one relying on alcohol or drugs to get through the pandemic, it may be time to consider professional addiction treatment. Getting help can feel impossible, but taking the first step is the most difficult and most important step in a recovery journey.
Now that we’ve covered how children and adults are reacting to the pandemic, it’s time to consider how elders are grappling with the sixth month of social distancing.
How COVID Has Impacted Older Adults
It has become common knowledge that COVID-19 has a significantly higher mortality rate in adults over the age of 65 than in any other age group. This is combined with increased risk of mortality from comorbidities, which many elders face. It’s understandable, then, that feelings of fear and concern have become the norm among older adults.
This is not helped by concerning mortality statistics, like 35% of all American COVID-19-related deaths stemming from long-term care facilities, according to Medical News Today. And part of the danger could be the way that ageism affects social distancing practices. When people do not respect elders, they may not feel compelled to sacrifice comfort or convenience for the sake of older members of the community.
Not only does this lack of consideration contribute to the very real loss of life, but it has a significant mental impact on many older adults. Not feeling valued by their communities can increase rates of depression and feelings of isolation. And in a time when elders in particular have to stay as physically isolated as possible, this mental isolation takes an especially heavy toll.
There is good news, however. Video calls can make it possible for loved ones to stay in touch without incurring any extra risk, and even limited visits can be reasonably safe, provided the visitors have limited their exposure already and follow social distancing guidelines.
There you have it, a look at how different age groups are responding to the coronavirus. But what can you do with this information? And where do you go from here?
Why Does It Matter?
Right now, every person in your life is under considerable stress. And until a coronavirus vaccine is rolled out worldwide, that probably won’t change. But what can change are your interactions with people.
By considering the different pressures that different age groups are facing, we can all adjust to these new feelings and treat each other with the respect and attention that this situation necessitates. Because for better or worse, we’re all going through this together. And if we can learn to cope with these new feelings and speak about them honestly, then the mental health effects of the pandemic could calm down well before case numbers drop.
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