Pediatric mental and behavioral health in the period of quarantine and social distancing (COVID-19)

Jiancheng Ye
JMIR Pediatrics and Parenting 2020 July 7
The COVID-19 pandemic has spread rapidly throughout the world and has generated a long-term impact. The pandemic has caused great harm to society and also caused serious psychological trauma to many people. Pediatrics are a vulnerable group in this global public health emergency, as their nervous systems, endocrine systems and hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axes are not well developed. Psychological crises often cause pediatrics to produce feelings of abandonment, despair, incapacity and exhaustion, and even raising the risk of suicide. Children with mental illnesses are especially vulnerable during the quarantine and social distancing period. The inclusion of psychosocial support for pediatrics and their families are part of the health responses to disaster and disaster recovery. Based on the bio-psycho-social model, some pediatrics may have catastrophic thoughts and are prone to experience despair, numbness, flashback and other serious emotional and behavioral reactions. In severe cases, there may be symptoms of psychosis or post-traumatic stress disorder. Timely and appropriate protections are needed to prevent the occurrence of psychological and behavioral problems. The emerging digital applications and health services such as telehealth, social media, mobile health and remote interactive online education are able to bridge the social distance and support mental and behavioral health for pediatric populations. Based on the psychological development characteristics of pediatrics, this study also illustrates interventions on the psychological impact from the COVID-19 pandemic. Even though the world has been struggling to curb the influences of the pandemic, the quarantine and social distancing policies will have long-term impacts on pediatrics. Innovative digital solutions and informatics tools are needed more than ever to mitigate the negative consequences on pediatrics. Healthcare delivery and services should envision and implement innovative paradigms to meet broad well-being needs and pediatric health as the quarantine and social distancing over a longer term become a new reality. Future research on pediatric mental and behavioral health should pay more attention to novel solutions that incorporate cutting edge interactive technologies and digital approaches, leveraging considerable advances in pervasive and ubiquitous computing, human-computer interaction, health informatics and among many others. Digital approaches, health technologies and informatics are supposed to be designed and implemented to support public health surveillance and critical responses to pediatrics' growth and development. For instance, human-computer interactions, augmented reality and virtual reality could be incorporated to remote psychological supporting service for pediatric health; mobile technologies could be used to monitor pediatrics' mental and behavioral health while protecting their individual privacy; big data and artificial intelligences could be utilized to support decision-making on whether pediatrics should go out for physical activities and whether schools should be reopened, etc. Implications to clinical practice, psychological therapeutic practices and future research directions to address current efforts gaps have been highlighted.

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