ISS
Epidemiology for public health
Istituto Superiore di Sanità
Epidemiology for public health - ISS

Pandemic, neurodevelopment and mental health of children and young people

The findings of a survey conducted by the Italian Authority for Children and Adolescents (AGIA) and the Istituto Superiore di Sanità (ISS) to investigate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on neurodevelopment and mental health in minors, as well as the effects of measures taken by the government to deal with the emergency, are now available online.

Between September and November 2021, over 90 experts were surveyed through:

  • five separate focus groups with different professionals, i.e. child and adolescent neuropsychiatrists, paediatricians, social workers, psychologists, and school teachers and principals
  • four interprofessional focus groups: one on the topic of substance and behavioural addictions; one on the impact of the pandemic on foreign unaccompanied minors; one for professionals working with minors in the Milan area; and a cross-sectoral group involving the members of the scientific committee
  • ad hoc interviews with specific professionals or private non-profit organizations.

The document “Pandemic, neurodevelopment and mental health of children and young people”, published in May 2022, compiles the findings from the survey.

 

Key findings

Responses highlighted a real “mental health emergency”, due to the growing demand for mental health services among minors. Professionals reported worsening of previously diagnosed disorders and the onset of new ones in vulnerable individuals. They recorded an increase in problems like: disrupted sleep-wake cycle, impulse-control disorder, eating disorders, suicidal ideation, suicide attempts, self-harm, social withdrawal, other neurodevelopmental disorders and early school leaving.

 

Professionals also noted that the pandemic had deepened local and regional inequalities, exacerbating existing structural problems.

 

The introduction of remote social and health care services (e.g. telemedicine) was recognized as a valuable resource, but also created challenges and problems that are still unresolved. The participants proposed the immediate implementation of various strategies, including: investments in training to ensure appropriate use of technologies in telemedicine; the development of a system that could guarantee continuity between hospitals and community-based services; and the adoption of structural measures for the prevention and monitoring of neurodevelopmental disorders. The findings also highlighted the key role of peer groups in the development of children and adolescents, as well as the need for minors to be placed at the centre of their educational and social communities and be actively involved in them.

 

Useful resources

 

Page published: 26 May 2022

Written by: Maria Luisa Scattoni, Martina Micai, Angela Caruso, Research Coordination and Support Service, Istituto Superiore di Sanità