How do school closures affect kids’ mental health?

Most Minnesota schools are back to conducting classes in person in February after the omicron surge in January forced many to go virtual due to a lack of teachers and staff. And almost two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, we’re starting to learn more about the toll distance learning takes on kids’ mental health.

To talk about findings from a new study review in JAMA Pediatrics, host Cathy Wurzer was joined by Dr. Jay-Sheree Allen. Dr. Allen is a family medicine doctor in greater Minnesota and hosts the podcast “Millennial Health.”

The study review focused on the first COVID-19 wave. It found evidence of associations between school closures and adverse mental health symptoms and behaviors in kids, Allen told Wurzer.

Allen noted that circumstances in the pandemic have changed since that first wave. For example, COVID-19 vaccines are now available for many kids.

She also cautioned that it’s hard to separate the impact of school closures specifically from the impact of lockdowns more generally during the first wave.

That said, Allen believes we “need to really start preparing for the toll that this pandemic has taken and continues to take” on kids.

“It’s not done,” Allen said. “I have a friend who said to me, ‘Normal is just a setting on a washing machine.’ So there’s no going back. ”

Allen told Wurzer it’s time to ask ourselves: “What will this new chapter and this new phase look like?”

“We need some new protective barriers” – like more emotional and mental health support, Allen said.

For adults looking for resources to support kids through mental health challenges, Allen recommended reaching out to a primary care doctor for help and referrals.

Use the audio player above to listen to the full conversation.

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