Population-based virtual mental health interventions for children, youth and families during COVID-19: If we build it, will they come?
BACKGROUND: Public health emergency measures (EMs) to prevent the spread of COVID‑19 have led to losses of structured school time, extracurricular activities, and social activities, impacting all aspects of children’s lives. Virtual mental health care (MH) has since become ensconced in our health care system. Despite the anticipated impact on MH and MH care, data examining these outcomes are scarce. Four leading research teams have joined forces to improve our understanding of the MH of Canadian children, youth, and parents and the acceptability of virtual MH interventions during the pandemic within these well characterized clinical and population-based cohorts. GOALS: To determine the impact of COVID‑19 related EM on child and parental MH and family functioning in real-time over 12 months. Further, to determine the feasibility of providing MH profile- and developmental age- specific virtual MH interventions to these children and families, identify risk and protective factors, and compare the MH trajectories of vulnerable and otherwise healthy youth throughout the pandemic and into the recovery period. METHODS: 6,200 children ages 0 to 18 years and their families will be recruited for participation. Validated measures will be administered monthly. Feasibility of virtual MH treatment will be determined by measures of recruitment, enrolment, and retention rates for referred interventions. IMPACT: The results of this study will provide the information needed to direct MH care, including virtual care, planning and inform public health discussions regarding the EM reduction process during the pandemic recovery phase and their reimplementation (if necessary) during subsequent COVID‑19 pandemic waves.