Attitudes and Aspirations: The indirect effects of educational disruption on the mental health and wellbeing of children and adolescents during the COVID‑19 pandemic.
The majority of children have reported worsening of their mental health (MH) since the onset of the COVID‑19 pandemic. One important way in which the pandemic has impacted children is through disruptions to school. This project examines the impact of COVID‑19 related education disruption on children’s MH and wellbeing. School helps children and youth develop interests, autonomy, and attitudes towards learning that inform their self-concept and their future aspirations. Although the term learning loss has been used to describe lost academic growth, children have also experienced losses to the non-academic factors that may be critical to their MH. Our research over the last 18 months shows that simply opening classrooms, while maintaining COVID‑19 public health-related measures at school, was not sufficient to improve children’s MH. This suggests that children rely on other factors besides academic instruction at school for their wellbeing. We will test the associations between non-academic factors (e.g., motivation and engagement, autonomy, connectedness) during the pandemic and children’s MH outcomes among a large sample of children. With few studies exploring the aspects of school that have been impacted by the pandemic, our team of child and youth MH experts will identify the indirect losses that children have experienced that are critical to the success and wellbeing of children. In addition, we will examine whether some children are disproportionately impacted by these non-academic school factors (e.g., based on socioeconomic status, gender identity, race/ethnicity, and diagnosis of pre-existing mental health and/or neurodevelopmental disorder) resulting in greater MH risk. By determining the indirect losses that children have experienced due to education disruption, and the effect of these on children’s MH, this study will inform clinical and educational programs to improve children’s MH and educational outcomes as we transition to post-pandemic life.