Researchers have revealed that early identification and treatment is vital to avoid long-term mental health consequences from Covid-19 among children and young people.
The study, published in the journal Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapy, highlights how health anxieties can be triggered by changes like returning to school and argue that young people need time to readjust to routine and to deal with emotions after such a prolonged period at home.
For some, ongoing concerns about health, triggered by the invisible threat posed by Covid-19, could interfere with life and parents and teachers need to be aware of signs such as excessive hand washing, and reassurance-seeking about health-related worries.
"Children are not immune to worries about their health, or the health of those around them. It is essential that we are able to recognise when normal concerns around Covid become more problematic," said study author Jo Daniels from the University of Bath in the UK.
Signs of stress in children may include tummy ache, sleeping problems and not engaging in normally enjoyable activities; for those particularly affected by health-related anxiety,"You might expect to see excessive hand-washing, exaggerated avoidance of touching objects for fear of picking up the virus, or repeated reassurance seeking from adults in addition to the usual signs of stress and worry," Daniels added.
According to the researchers, Children may not always be able to describe or verbalise their concerns clearly, so they are looking for marked changes in behaviour or worries that get in the way of living life to the full.
The team behind the study suggest health anxieties in children might be triggered by an immediate family member becoming ill, a shielding member of the household, or perhaps because of raised family tensions due to parental health-related worries.
In these scenarios, they advise parents and teachers to seek professional help where needed.Their guidance offers suggestions about how cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), including CBT conducted online or by phone, can be an effective treatment option to address children and young people's health anxieties.
During the pandemic, the team have previously highlighted mental health vulnerabilities including health anxiety in adults, and loneliness in children and young people.They recommend that parents or teachers who notice that a child or young person is worried about health should offer them the opportunity to talk about their worries by gently listening to their concerns, and then encouraging them to find ways to gradually face and overcome their fears.
Simple interventions that may be helpful could include correcting misunderstandings surrounding covid and the necessary precautions, the study noted.