After calling for lockdowns as recently as September, the Alberta Medical Association (AMA) is now sharing concerns about the impact pandemic restrictions have had on the mental health of the province’s children and youth.

A survey by the AMA saw 77% of Alberta parents of teens 15 and older say that their children’s mental health had worsened during the pandemic.

The survey also saw 70% of parents of children six to 14 – and half of parents of children under six  – say that their kids now have worse mental health.

AMA president Vesta Michelle Warren said she wasn’t surprised by the findings. 

“We’ve been seeing it clinically,” she explained “The mental health concerns in all ages has really escalated throughout the pandemic.” 

“The study itself showed, the older the child was, the more likely they were to have had a negative impact on their mental health throughout the course of the pandemic.”

Warren also said she’s been told by pediatricians that “they really see the internet, social media and this ubiquitous use of computers — whether it be a cell phone or iPad or computer itself — as really being one of the big problems with respect to the mental health issues that we’re seeing right now.” 

According to Warren, another issue has been the difficulty of accessing mental health resources. 

“It’s gotten worse for sure to try and link people in it and especially to get them linked in a timely fashion,” she said. 

With Warren and the AMA now raising the alarm over the impact of the pandemic on mental health, it perhaps comes as a surprise that they supported government-imposed lockdowns – identified as a key factor in the worsening of mental health not only for children and youth but also for adults.

Last September, when Alberta was dealing with a fourth wave driven by the Delta variant, the AMA had joined those calling for a “fire break” lockdown to slow the spread of the virus.

Then AMA president Paul Boucher had said “(i)t is now life and death.”

 “Albertans are tired and have been doing their part since this all started, and we do not make these statements lightly,” he added. “These are indeed desperate times and we are disheartened that it has come to this. We need government to institute clear, decisive actions to immediately save our health-care system from collapse and protect Albertans.”

Meanwhile, Warren signed a letter in Nov. 2020 along with hundreds of other doctors calling on the Alberta government to impose a second lockdown – something premier Jason Kenney ended up doing the following month.

While Alberta did not go to the same lengths as Ontario and Quebec in terms of severity, its restrictions did close many businesses, ban gatherings and limit capacity at places of worship – including jailing pastors who defied public health orders. 

The Albera government also limited children’s sports and shuttered schools on several occasions during the pandemic, including earlier this year when it delayed the return to school after Christmas break over the Omicron variant.

The findings of AMA’s survey are similar to those of Toronto’s SickKids hospital, which had found that 70.2% of children six to 18 and 66.1% of preschool-aged children two to five years old had reported a deterioration in mental health.

McMaster Children’s Hospital had also saw a 90% increase in children’s eating disorder referrals, while the US Centre for Disease Control (CDC) found that the early days of the pandemic had led to one in four young people contemplating suicide.

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