Ulrike Ravens-Sieberer: Let me start with the good news: A lot of children and young people got through the pandemic really well.
WELT: Then we wouldn’t actually need to talk about it.
Ravens-Sieberer: Unfortunately, there is also the downside. Our latest study shows that the quality of life is still not as high as it was before Corona. This survey took place when there were no longer any restrictions other than the requirement to wear a mask in medical facilities. Exactly a year ago. Everyone lived their usual lives again, children and young people went to school as normal and were able to meet each other happily.
WELT: What’s the score?
Ravens-Sieberer: Nevertheless, 73 percent of young people said they felt burdened.
WELT: What was it like in the winter of 2020/21 when all schools were closed and the country was shut down by the longest lockdown?
Ravens-Sieberer: That was our second survey, back then 82 percent said that.
WELT: It was a world crisis. Isn’t uncertainty a normal reaction – and does it have an after-effect?
Ravens-Sieberer: Being stressed is a completely normal reaction. One person just feels a little unsettled, the other reacts with fear, doesn’t want to get up anymore, can no longer cope with everyday life, measurable reactions are not surprising. The only thing that is much more important than the change in the crisis is what is left behind.
WELT: What is left behind?
Ravens-Sieberer: In psychology we call the ability to survive difficult life situations without permanent impairment “resilience”. Society-wide resilience in Germany always seemed high; for two decades we have seen stable values at a reassuringly high level among German children and young people in our data. So from my point of view it would be expected that the children would stabilize again as soon as they can resume their normal lives.
WELT: That’s exactly what didn’t happen.
Ravens-Sieberer: No, and above all, one in four children still suffers from psychological problems. Above all, fears remain; before the pandemic, 15 percent of children between the ages of 7 and 17 had abnormal results, now it is still more than 20 percent. For example, you may suffer from irritability, sleep problems, depression and nervousness. It is also noticeable that there are almost twice as many signs of psychosomatic illnesses, complaints of back pain, stomach pain or headaches. Psychological stress can manifest itself in the same way, especially in young children.
WELT: Does that sound similar to Long Covid complaints?
Ravens-Sieberer: Most children and young people have not suffered physically from a viral infection, but from the preventative measures taken to contain the pandemic.
WELT: Did you also ask about this or can you otherwise conclude it so clearly from your data?
Ravens-Sieberer: Some people lost contact with their peers, were no longer able to pursue their hobbies, and often had less exercise because some of them were unable to do sports.
WELT: How important is sport?
Ravens-Sieberer: Sport is essential for mental and physical well-being, because of the movement, because it is where you meet your friends and learn to deal with conflicts, victories and defeats. In addition to school closures, these and other factors have had a major impact on the development of children and young people.
WELT: If for you it is so clearly due to the contact restrictions, why can’t the children get out of the crisis in their heads?
Ravens-Sieberer: There was no break, the uncertainty continued seamlessly, just in a different way: only one in ten respondents were concerned about Corona, 44 percent were worried about the energy crisis, followed by the war in Ukraine and climate change.
WELT: Who is particularly affected by this?
Ravens-Sieberer: Overall, disadvantaged children from socially disadvantaged families are more affected. And younger ones, children aged 11 to 13, are more severely affected than those aged 14 to 17. One could explain this by saying that the stress of adults is also passed on to children, and the younger ones are even more dependent on their parents.
WELT: When responding to the new crises, could it not also play a role that children and young people have become less mentally healthy since the pandemic and that chronic illnesses have become established?
Ravens-Sieberer: That’s how it works.
Prof. Ulrike Ravens-Sieberer, Center for Psychosocial Medicine; Clinic for Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, UKE Hamburg
Ulrike Ravens-Sieberer heads the “Child Public Health” research group at the Hamburg University Hospital Eppendorf. As an expert on the children’s health report, she describes in her studies the uncertainty that gripped many children and their families during the pandemic.
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