40% of NZ kids showing signs of depression in lockdown - study

Source: 1News

Around 40 per cent of children in New Zealand have displayed signs of depression due to Covid-19 lockdowns, according to a new report.

The Growing Up in New Zealand longitudinal study surveyed nearly 2500 children, aged between 10 and 11, about the effects of Covid-19 restrictions in March 2020.

The study, released on Tuesday, found that nearly 80 per cent of children reported having a good time with their family under lockdown.

It also found that around 40 per cent of them were displaying symptoms of depression and anxiety, with girls more likely to be affected. Māori and Pasifika children were less likely to be affected.

In addition, nearly three-quarters of children reported a decrease in school satisfaction during lockdown compared with scores at eight years of age.

Around two-thirds of children reported using devices nearly five hours every day for school or homework on average.

Growing Up in New Zealand Foundation director Professor Susan Morton said it was “really heartening to see that the children, actually, were quite resilient and adaptable in that beginning of lockdown”.

“Eighty per cent of them were having good physical well-being … They enjoyed the opportunities that actually being with their families offered and that was really good to see,” she told Breakfast.

“The bigger the family, the more there was an impact - the connectedness and the well-being and that was really great to see because so often, some big families are associated with problems and yet in this case, they were actually protective.”

Around 21 per cent of the children provided feedback saying they enjoyed spending time with their parents and extended family doing “activities that they wouldn’t otherwise do”, such as baking.

However, Morton said 40 per cent of children “across the cohort” were also exhibiting more signs of anxiety and depression than when they were last seen at eight years old.

Māori and Pasifika children displayed less symptoms than New Zealand European, Asian and other children due to the "protective factor" and "reassurance from having their family around them and those connections".

She said there were concerns, however, around the "ongoing impact of lockdown" and its effect on schooling as it continues to drag on.

"What we know from the study over time is that those children in the larger bubbles ... much more likely are the families that are struggling with access to devices, which chaotic lives, with busier lives.

"It is likely over time that that initial period of wellbeing - that novelty, if you like - may well have waned over time."

Morton said there are concerns follow-up surveys with the children in the next year will see a different pattern emerge, with those who displayed resilience "now potentially starting to fall behind because of the length of time we’ve now spent in this very strange situation".

A child and a teddy bear wearing masks.

She called for parents to be more lenient on themselves and their children as they spend more time looking at screens.

“This has been an incredibly difficult time for families who are trying to homeschool, who are trying to work from home, who are trying to support the wellbeing of their young children.

"Sometimes, work’s going to go out the window, sometimes school’s going to go out the window but actually, you can reassure and be with your children - just be with them and support them and reassure them that sometime, we hope, we’re going to come out of this strange situation and life will return to some new normal.

"Hopefully, they will have continued their resilience and their adaptability and with their families around them, be able to re-engage with life going forward."