The effects of COVID-19 on young people and their mental health


COVID-19 has been with us for two years, and overall, young people are doing just fine. Millions of children have already received COVID-19 vaccines and the science found on the Center for Disease Control website shows that vaccines are safe, including for ages 5 and up.
As with adults, clinical trials were conducted before scientists recommended vaccination for younger people. The Food and Drug Administration has granted an emergency use authorization for the COVID-19 vaccine to be administered to children ages 5 to 15, and full approval for use by people over age 16.
The benefits of vaccinations outweigh the known and potential risks, and reports of severe reactions are rare. While there have been some reports of myocarditis in young people receiving the vaccine, most children have reported no side effects.
Some parents may have concerns about face masks harming their children. Masks are made from breathable materials that will not block the oxygen their child needs. The vast majority of children can safely wear masks for extended periods of time, such as during the school day or at child care. This includes children with many medical conditions. There have been false reports that face masks can lead to carbon dioxide poisoning from re-breathing the air we normally breathe out. But this is not true. Wearing a mask — even if you do not have symptoms — helps prevent the virus from spreading and helps protect the wearer from others who have coronavirus, but are not showing symptoms.
From a mental wellness perspective, a 2020 Australian Headspace National Youth Mental Health Foundation survey found that despite a higher prevalence than normal of mental health problems in young people reported during the pandemic, 69 percent of young people felt more empathy towards vulnerable people and 51 percent felt more compassionate or generous towards others due to the pandemic. Some young people reported positive impacts on their financial situation (22%), interaction with family members (20%), and their exercise or physical activity (18%). Twenty-eight per cent reported only positive impacts on their lives, pointing to time alone to start up new and old hobbies. Others said they gained faith in the community and felt hopeful for the future.
Although some faithful have expressed concerns about the origins of decades-old cell lines used to produce the life-saving immunizations we currently have, the Vatican has declared that it is morally acceptable for Catholics to receive COVID-19 vaccines. Pope Francis, who is vaccinated, has encouraged people to get the shot for the common good. “Contributing to ensure the majority of people are vaccinated is an act of love,” the Holy Father said in a recent video from the Holy See. “Vaccination is a simple, but profound way of promoting the common good and caring for each other, especially the most vulnerable.”

Daniel S. Harrop, M.D., K.H.S., a parishioner at St. Anthony Parish, Portsmouth, is a board certified psychiatrist and secretary and former president of the RI Catholic Medical Association. He is a retired faculty member at both the Brown and Harvard University medical schools. He recently delivered a presentation entitled “COVID-19, Youth and Mental Health” to the St. Augustine Knights of Columbus Council #10557 at St. Augustine Church, Providence.


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