Spain: Triple Mental Disorders in Children and Adolescents Due to Pandemic

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Poor children are four times more likely to suffer from mental health problems than those living in more affluent households, while mental illness in children and adolescents has tripled due to the pandemic.

These are the conclusions of her recent report NGO Save the Children, which is based on a survey of 2,046 households last September and used comparative data from 2017 to date. At the same time, valuable elements of it are used National Health Research (ENS) of 2017.

As the report points out, mental disorders in children aged 4 to 14 in Spain have tripled since 2017 as a result of the coronavirus crisis.

Specifically, mental disorders affect today 4% of children and adolescents between 4 and 14 years, while in 2017 they affected only 1%. These disorders include, in addition to depression or anxiety, excessive reactions, irritability or frustration. Behavioral disorders have also increased in the same age group, from 2.5% to 6.9%. Symptoms are usually attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

In her research, the Save the Children used the questions asked in the latest National Health Survey (ENS), published in 2017 by the Ministry of Health. The report, like the ENS, analyzes parents’ perceptions of their children’s mental health, regardless of whether or not these disorders have been diagnosed.

The general manager of Save the Children, Andrés Conde, stated in the presentation of the analysis that there is “an anomaly”: while the disorders identified by the parents have increased, “the medical diagnoses of these problems have decreased significantly”. It refers to the fact that between 2017 and 2021, the diagnoses of mental disorders decreased from 83.2% to 74.6%, and those of behavior from 93.1% to 75.0%. It is due, according to Conde, to the saturation of the health system during Covid-19. However, he added: “This should worry us because there is a very deteriorating reality of childhood health, but there is a failure of the system to diagnose it as it deserves.”

The decline in children’s mental health was uneven. The report concludes that minors living in poor households are most affected: 13% of them suffer from mental or behavioral illnesses, compared with 3% of those living in high-income households. In other words, poor children are four times more likely to suffer from mental health problems than those living in more affluent households. This was already evident in 2017, when the number of mental disorders in minors living in low-income homes (2%) tripled from those in high-income (0.6%). But the pandemic has widened this gap.

In addition to the socio-economic component, Save the Children has also analyzed how the age and gender of minors affect the development of mental health problems. By age, mental disorders are much more common in people over the age of 12, while behavioral disorders occur at younger ages. By gender, mental disorders are much more common in girls, while behavioral disorders are in boys.

Suicidal tendencies and pandemic

Save the Children included questions about suicidal ideation in their research, a question not included in the 2017 ENS. According to the parents surveyed, 3% of minors have or had suicidal thoughts as a result of the pandemic. Like mental disorders, suicidal ideation varies with age and increases as adolescence approaches. Gender also plays a role: although girls seem to be more influenced by suicidal thoughts or intentions, it is boys who end up committing this act to a greater degree. Family income is another important factor, as the percentage of poor parents who think that their children intend to commit suicide (4%) is three times higher than that of high-income families (1.3%).

Response: Dora Makri, Madrid

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