The impact of the COVID‑19 pandemic on the mental health of children and youth
Emergency measures aimed at reducing the spread of COVID‑19 have unsettled all aspects of the lives of Canadian children and youth. In Ontario, home to close to 40% of Canadian children and youth, school closures and stay-at-home orders have produced prolonged periods of social and physical isolation from classmates and extended family. Simultaneous disruptions in the availability of extracurricular activities and access to health care and specialized support services further increased the isolating effects of the COVID‑19 pandemic, predisposing children and youth to worsening mental health. However, there is limited research describing the impact of COVID-19-related public health measures on the mental health of children and youth. This is especially important for disadvantaged children and youth for whom the harmful effects of emergency measures may be worsened by pre-existing disadvantage, such as lack of internet access for remote learning or medical appointments, poverty, and living in neighbourhoods without parks or green space. Our goal is to understand the impact of the COVID‑19 pandemic and associated restrictions (e.g., lockdowns, school closures) on the mental health of children and youth in Ontario. We will specifically study hospital admissions and emergency department visits for mental health conditions, emergency department visits for self-harm, and prescriptions for psychotropics (i.e., antidepressants, benzodiazepines, stimulants and antipsychotics). For each of these outcomes, we will study how their occurrence changed with COVID-19, whether there were differences according to the neighbourhood of residence, and the relationship with the duration of lockdowns and school closures. We will also study whether there were differences between females and males, by age group, between children and youth with and without mental health or neurodevelopmental conditions before the pandemic, and according to features of the neighbourhoods of residence.