The report said while children largely experience milder COVID-19 symptoms, the pandemic has had direct and indirect impacts on children’s mental and physical health.
“There were intended consequences associated with school closures and school disruptions and those closures – the intended ones – were to stem the tide of the pandemic,” said Coun. Joe Cressy, chair of Toronto’s Board of Health.
“But there were severe and unintended consequences.”
With interruptions to in-person learning, the report said children’s mental health has been impacted, with global studies reporting increased rates of anxiety, depression, stress and loneliness.
The report that went before the Toronto Board of Health on Monday cites data that found that in the first year of the pandemic, one in four youth experienced increased depressive symptoms and one in five experienced elevated anxiety.
The pandemic also resulted in the suspension of the school dental screening program and school immunization program.
“Going forward, we have three immediate pieces of work: first is to continue accelerating programs for vaccinations and dental screenings that kids might have missed. The second is to create a new baseline for children and youth health and mental health so that going forward we are monitoring in real time how are kids doing,” said Cressy.
“The third is working with the board to make sure we are diagnosing and treating the mental health consequences many youth will be struggling with.”
Todd Cunningham, associate professor at the University of Toronto and school and clinical child psychologist, said providing support to students in need requires an all-hands-on-deck approach.
“We have to be able to say these are the students that we have to put the resources to right away because if we don’t do that, the risk is that those students will have compounding issues that will emerge,” he said.
“School is actually going to be a lot harder for some individuals, plus their ability to engage in school is going to be hampered by their anxiety or depressive symptoms that are coming together.”
Cressy said Toronto Public Health is working with the province and school boards to address the needs of students and work is underway to address urgent needs, like accelerated dental screenings and student immunization programs.
“Our kids’ health and well-being is the responsibility of all of us, at the province, at the city and Toronto Public Health and the school boards,” he said.
“To build a healthier environment on a permanent basis.”