“There are more fears”

Professor Freitag, Federal Minister of Health Karl Lauterbach said this week that the increase in mental disorders in children is not a result of the lockdown, but that the pandemic itself is responsible. The study situation does not give anything else. How do you see it?

Lucy Schmidt

Editor in the “Life” department of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sunday newspaper.

This statement is not entirely correct. Of course, some children and young people are also afraid of getting sick, but the lockdown seems to be essential. The international study situation is clear: anxiety and eating disorders as well as depression have increased significantly in children and adolescents during the pandemic. In addition, the time that children and young people spend on computers and mobile phones has increased significantly. Most move far too little. There are already systematic reviews and meta-analyses on this.

And is that due to the closures of day care centers and schools?

That is the question: What role do the kindergarten and school closures have with regard to these symptoms? There are now comparative studies from Canada and Australia that clearly show that during the corona pandemic, periods of lockdown in particular led to an increase in the symptoms mentioned in children and adolescents. The loss of everyday structure, exercise and social contacts with peers is a classic risk factor for depression and anxiety disorders; the increase in social media consumption is likely related to the increased rates of anorexia.

Professor Christine M. Freitag in a photo from February 2019

Professor Christine M. Freitag in a photo from February 2019

Image: Carlos Bafile

You are not familiar with the studies to which Karl Lauterbach refers?

I do not know what studies Herr Lauterbach is talking about.

What do the children and young people you are currently treating say? What is bothering her?

Above all, they suffer from self-esteem crises, a lack of contact with friends, body schema disorders, numerous fears and depressive moods.

Can you keep up with the care of these young people?

Because we have consistent clinical capacity, we cannot treat more patients even as demand increases. And this despite the fact that we are also seeing a shift in the severity of the clinical pictures, especially in the case of depression, anxiety and eating disorders.

Which age group is particularly affected?

Ultimately, it affects all children and young people, but we have the impression that the eight to fourteen year olds are the hardest hit.

So you’re saying it was the strict lockdown that did this damage after all. But infecting young people was not an option either. What would you have done?

It would have been important to equip kindergartens and schools with effective hygiene concepts much earlier and thus avoid closures. We’re still lagging behind. And since vaccination has been around, compulsory vaccination for educators and teachers should also be considered. That protects the children.

In your opinion, what measures should be taken in the interests of children and young people when Omikron comes?

What I just suggested: hygiene concepts, compulsory vaccinations for caregivers and much more support for families with sick children or sick parents.

Christine M. Freitag is a professor of child and adolescent psychiatry and psychotherapy at the Goethe University in Frankfurt and a board member of the German Society for Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Psychosomatic Medicine and Psychotherapy.

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