Assessing COVID’s impact on pre-schooler mental health

| June 5, 2020

The mental health of Australian pre-schoolers will be assessed in a survey on how they and their families are coping with coronavirus (COVID-19).

University of Melbourne researchers say children aged 1-5 are under-represented in trauma and anxiety research as many people wrongly assume that they will simply bounce back after disruptive events, or not remember them.

Believed to be Australia’s only such study of pre-schoolers, the COVID-19 Unmasked online survey will help build a picture of how the pandemic and other recent disruptive events, such as bushfires and floods, have affected young children, their parents, and family life.

Experts from the University’s Melbourne School of Population and Global Health are working with the Queensland Centre for Perinatal and Infant Mental Health, University of Queensland, Children’s Health Queensland, and others on the project.

The survey hopes to improve understanding about how children aged1-5 respond to disruptive events, and how to better support their mental health and emotional wellbeing now and into the future.

This knowledge will help parents, educators, health services and other professionals respond more effectively.

University of Melbourne Research Fellow Dr Mira Vasileva said earlier research had shown that older children who experienced medical trauma, violence, natural disaster or another disruptive life event could struggle socially and at school.

But few studies had looked at those aged 1-5, partly due to assumptions that they wouldn’t be affected long-term.

Dr Vasileva said it was important to learn whether young children were affected and how, as it could impact their development and later life if resulting mental health issues were not addressed.

“This age group is often neglected because people think they don’t understand what’s happening but they are also affected by the behaviour of their parents, who might be stressed by working at home or being in financial trouble,” Dr Vasileva said.

Associate Professor Eva Alisic, also involved in the study, added: “We want to see how affected young children actually are, and how they and their parents are coping. It’s important because children in this age group are developing rapidly, and we want to avoid disruption to that development.”

The 20-minute anonymous online survey is aimed at Australian caregivers of children aged 1-5 living in Australia or overseas. Follow up surveys will be conducted three, six and 12 months later.

It started on 11 May and runs until 30 June. More than 600 Australian parents and carers participated in the first two weeks.