A new survey from the BC Children’s Hospital, the University of British Columbia and Simon Fraser University is seeking information on how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the mental health of children and families.
“Across B.C., many young people and their families are feeling the added stress, anxiety and depression brought on by COVID-19,” says Sheila Malcolmson, Minister of Mental Health and Addictions. “I’m grateful to BC Children’s Hospital for taking on this important work and listening to the voices of people who are directly affected. The information gathered will help us to plan for the supports and services that people need now and after the pandemic.”
Director of psychiatry research at BC Children’s Dr. Evelyn Stewart and affiliate investigator with BC Children’s and assistant professor with SFU’s faculty of health sciences Dr. Hasina Samji are co-leading the study. They are focused on learning how the pandemic has impacted peoples feelings, thoughts and actions since it began, as well as learning what resources are needed to manage these.
“This research has the potential to transform the lives of children and families across the province who are struggling with unmet mental health care needs,” says Dr. Stewart, who is also a psychiatry professor in UBC’s faculty of medicine. “We will provide decision-makers with rigorous evidence to guide clinical and policy decisions for this and future pandemics.”
Youth over the age of seven are invited to participate in the 20-30 minute survey about their experiences and parents can also participate by sharing the experiences of their children, which takes an additional 20 minutes per child.
Survey leaders want to hear from youth because their voices have been missing in this important conversation so far, as well as families and young people from underrepresented communities.
The survey has already been distributed to some families through a soft launch. Jennifer Barkman is a mother of children with special needs and she says her kids have expressed “a lot more feelings and a lot more emotions” without their hockey and dance practices. She has been looking for help to make decisions about health care supports for them.
“That has been my callout to our support people, saying, ‘What do you know about what’s going on for families like ours?’” says Barkman. “I want to know how other people are doing and what they’re doing, and to hear the wisdom and tricks and tips and coping strategies from those people – even if it doesn’t help for now, it’s important for the future.”
Dr. Samji, who is also a senior scientist at the BC Centre for Disease Control, compares the pandemic to a marathon, not a sprint. She realizes many families, children and youth are struggling.
“We hope we can make a difference to improve people’s mental well-being now and in the future,” she says. “There is widespread recognition that we need to measure mental well-being at the population level and in groups that may be disproportionately affected by the pandemic. We are grateful for the support of many stakeholders in our work including the Ministry of Health, which has provided seed funding.
Researchers are hoping a minimum of 3,000 people will participate in the survey. It is open to everyone with a focus on B.C. residents.