Study: Child Anxiety, Depression Rose Before and During Pandemic
By Joey Berlin

Between 2016 and 2020, diagnoses of both anxiety and depression in children went up significantly, according to a study from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and child behavioral problems continued to increase once the COVID-19 pandemic began.

The study, published in JAMA Pediatrics, suggested “concerning changes in child and family well-being after the onset” of the pandemic, HHS said in a statement.

In the report itself, researchers wrote, “After the onset of the pandemic specifically, there were significant year-over-year increases in children’s diagnosed behavioral or conduct problems, decreases in preventive medical care visits, increases in unmet health care needs, and increases in the proportion of young children whose parents quit, declined, or changed jobs because of child care problems.”

HHS’ Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) conducted the study, which found that over the examined five-year period, the number of children between ages 3 and 17 diagnosed with anxiety spiked by 29%. For depression diagnoses, researchers found a 27% increase.

“Increases in anxiety and depression were evident before the onset of the pandemic (2016-2019), with modest but statistically nonsignificant continuations of these trends in 2020,” the study said, adding that “other data sources based on electronic health records and surveillance programs have indicated that the pandemic exacerbated said trends.”

Other data comparing the year preceding the pandemic with the first calendar year of COVID showed stark changes. From 2019 to 2020, the study found:

  • A 21% increase in children with behavior or conduct problems;
  • A 32% increase in children with unmet health care needs;
  • A 9% drop in children making preventive medical care visits; and
  • An 18% decrease in children’s physical activity.

Researchers also noted “decreases in caregiver mental and emotional well-being and coping with parenting demands.” The number of parents or caregivers who reported coping “very well” with the demands of raising children fell by 11% over the five-year span.

“Both the trends for decreasing [parent or caregiver] mental health and parental coping began pre-2020; there was a continued decrease in 2020 for both measures, but only the decrease in parental coping was statistically significant,” researchers wrote.

"Our research highlights a critical need to support both children and their caregivers to improve families’ mental and emotional well-being," pediatrician Michael Warren, MD, a study coauthor and associate administrator of HRSA’s Maternal and Child Health Bureau, said in the HHS statement. "This includes ensuring access to timely health care services and addressing social determinants of health to support children and families’ overall well-being."

Last Updated On

March 22, 2022

Originally Published On

March 22, 2022

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