Children with pre-existing mental health issues thrived during the early phase of the pandemic.
- While COVID-19 physically affects adults more than children, mental health distress has increased across all age groups.
- Children between 5 and 17 sought help for mental health issues at much higher rates in 2020.
- However, a new study found children with pre-existing mental health issues experienced reduced symptoms when lockdowns began.
While the physical effects of COVID-19 have dominated headlines for the last 13 months, mental health effects are considered a simultaneous pandemic that could outlast the virus. Children have generally been resilient against the novel coronavirus (though at least one variant is hitting that demographic harder). In terms of depression and anxiety, however, children are on par with adults.
Emergency hospital visits for mental health issues in the 12-to-17-year-old demographic have jumped 31 percent since the pandemic began. Younger children have fared only slightly better: a 24 percent increase for children ages 5 to 11. In Germany, one in three children has suffered anxiety or depression over the past year. On top of this, children are having trouble learning in remote education environments.
However, at least one demographic fared better than normal, at least during the early phase of lockdowns. According to a new study, published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, middle school children from a predominantly Latinx community with higher-than-normal levels of mental distress experienced a reduction in symptoms.
Children with previous mental health problems saw reduced internalizing (behaviors including being withdrawn, nervous, lonely, unwanted, or sad), externalizing (behaviors including lying, acting irresponsibly, breaking the law, or displaying lack of remorse), and other problems.
Those without mental health issues benefited as well, at least in terms of internalizing and overall behavior; there was no change in attentional issues or externalizing.
The researchers began tracking 322 children (average age 12) in January 2020, before the pandemic took hold in America. They were studied until May 2020. While this only represents a sliver of time in lockdown, senior author Carla Sharp, a psychology professor at the University of Houston, says the results have important clinical implications.
"First, promoting family functioning during COVID-19 may have helped protect or improve youth mental health during the pandemic. Further, it is important to consider cultural factors, such as familism and collectivism in Latinx communities that may buffer the early effects of disasters on mental health to COVID-19 stress."
Seven-year-old Hamza Haqqani, a 2nd-grade student at Al-Huda Academy, uses a computer to participate in an E-learning class with his teacher and classmates while at his home on May 01, 2020 in Bartlett, Illinois.Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images
Many have decried what we've lost during this past year. Indeed, the issues are many and complex. Yet we've also seen reductions in environmental damage (including noise pollution) and increased savings. We also have a greater awareness of how factory farming helps viruses proliferate. And, despite the obvious challenges of earning a living with so many businesses and industries shuttered, this time has afforded some an opportunity to reconnect with their family.
Study co-author Jessica Hernandez Ortiz says this research could inspire new avenues of addressing mental health issues in children.
"Our findings underline the importance of the family environment and Latinx collectivist values of community connection for promoting child resilience and brings into stark focus the possibility that school environments may exacerbate mental health difficulties. Removal from that context into a less pressured environment immediately and positively impacts mental health."
Since the study ended shortly into the pandemic, the novelty of family togetherness could have diminished as families became economically strained and realized that spending all their time together was more taxing than initially imagined. That said, humans are social animals that require regular contact with family and peers. The latter group might not have been available, but at least for some children, their families filled in the gaps, especially for those that did not thrive in a traditional school environment.
Stay in touch with Derek on Twitter and Facebook. His most recent book is "Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."
Cotton mask fibers prove 33 percent more effective at blocking viruses in trials.
- In a new study, filtration efficiency increased by 33 percent with cotton fabrics.
- Nine different types of cotton flannel were tested, with efficacy rates ranging from 12-45 percent better than synthetic fibers.
- Nylon, rayon, and polyester all performed much worse than the cotton counterparts.
A year into the pandemic and we've never gained clarity around masks. Of course, we know wearing one is somewhere between somewhat and very effective at stopping the spread of viruses. The efficacy of different materials and fits has been constantly debated. For those who cannot secure N95 masks, the dizzying range of options and price points can be paralyzing.
A recent study, published in ACS Applied Nano Materials, investigated the durability of cloth and synthetic masks in environments meant to mimic the humidity generated by breathing. The researchers found that filtration efficiency (how well each material captures particles) increased by 33 percent with cotton fabrics.
Scientists from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the Smithsonian's Museum Conservation Institute found that because cotton is hydrophilic—it likes water—this fabric performs better in moist environments. By contrast, water-hating (hydrophobic) synthetic fabrics don't absorb moisture, making them less efficient at blocking virus particles.
The team tested swatches instead of masks. The first set of dual-layer fabrics were placed in an environment with 99 percent humidity; the second set, 55 percent. Once the fabrics were accustomed to the humidity, a pipe blew salt particle-rich air at the same velocity of exhalation in order to mimic the actual output of a human, as per CDC mask-testing guidelines.
Scanning electron microscope images of cotton flannel (left) and polyester (right). Cotton fibers absorb moisture from breath, which increases filtration. Each segment of the image scale bars is 50 micrometers, or millionths of a meter -- roughly the width of a human hair.
Credit: E.P. Vicenzi/Smithsonian's Museum Conservation Institute and NIST
Nine different types of cotton flannel were tested, with efficacy rates ranging from 12 percent to 45 percent better than synthetic fibers for an average of 33 percent. Nylon, rayon, and polyester all performed much worse than the cotton counterparts.
The researchers recognize that lab conditions are not real life. They also note that masks should not get wet. This study focused on real-world breathing conditions, not strenuous activities that would create more moisture. Still, NIST researcher Christopher Zangmeister was pleased with the results, noting,
"Cotton fabrics are still a great choice. But this new study shows that cotton fabrics actually perform better in masks than we thought."
An employee shows a surgical masks at a leather workshop turned into a mask factory, close to Vigevano, Lombardy, on March 19, 2020 during the country's lockdown within the new coronavirus pandemic.
Credit: Miguel Medina / AFP via Getty Images
This news is especially important given the current political climate, with states like Texas and Mississippi lifting mask mandates, setting up difficult situations for business owners that will continue to require masks in their stores and restaurants. For example, 70 percent of Houston restaurants plan to continue enforcing masks while officials in Austin are requiring mask-wearing in public.
Dr. Mark Escott, the Interim Medical Director and Health Authority for the City of Austin and Travis County, explains why the regional mandate is important.
"Wearing a face covering is one of the easiest ways to slow the transmission of disease in our community. While vaccine administration is underway, we are still not in a place of herd immunity and need people to wear face coverings in public and around non-household members so we can avoid another surge of cases."CDC guidelines suggest finding the right fit and, if you're not using N95 masks, to double mask—a good alternative when using cotton masks. Humidity might play a factor in their efficacy, but two layers of protection are certainly better than one—and way better than none.
Stay in touch with Derek on Twitter and Facebook. His most recent book is "Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."
A deeper appreciation for science and less unnecessary spending could be in our future.
- The "Fauci effect" has helped produce a record number of medical school applications.
- We'll soon no longer be able to avoid the reality of climate change, prompting more decisive action.
- Work from home trends are likely to continue and, in many cases, become permanent.
That was either the longest or shortest year in history. Most people are happy to say goodbye to 2020, but what does 2021 hold in store? Given how woefully inaccurate we were rolling into 2020, let's not be too sure of ourselves. That said, a few predictions can't hurt. Let's see what we can create.
These five predictions offer big-picture views of potential societal shifts in America. There are many other trends to take note of: Is this the beginning of the end of the movie theater? Are travel subscriptions the future of tourism? Are millennials ready to step up and rule the world? Will antitrust suits finally put a dent in Big Tech? Will we finally have more women leaders in C-level positions? Given the horror of Christmas Day, is a third Wonder Woman really necessary?
Let's be honest: We don't know what's going to happen in January, much less the duration of 2021. We can consciously help shape the five trends below, however. Here's to a prosperous and progressive New Year.
A deeper appreciation for science
As we're well aware, the media focuses on the tragic and boisterous far too often, stories that consume the most oxygen and frighten us most. There's no indication that this will change; fear and uncertainty draw our attention, and attention is its own economy. Nowhere has this been more apparent than in coverage of the pandemic in America, which Brown University researchers showed to be far more pessimistic than in any other nation.
While anti-vaxxers tend to grab headlines and dominate social media, there are signs that Americans appreciate medicine and science more than ever. The "Fauci effect" has resulted in a record number of medical school applications being submitted this year. The intent to get a vaccine is also rising, up to 60 percent this month (one poll claims 73 percent)—nowhere near the 90 percent Dr. Fauci says might be needed to reach herd immunity, but still moving in the right direction.While many Americans are rightly suspicious of pharmaceutical companies—the rollout of these vaccines require transparency and accountability, as evidenced by problems with the Astra Zeneca trials—the reason a vaccine was created in record time is due to good science. Consumers rarely complain when chip processors speed up their phones, which is how R&D is supposed to work. The same can be said for medicine: Researchers have more tools and knowledge at their disposal than ever. This is cause for cautious celebration, not fear-mongering.
A renewed focus on climate change
Speaking of sucking all the oxygen out of the room, the last four years have been dominated by Trump. Coverage of climate change has been cut. That must change. The pandemic is a wake-up call that we're not as in control of nature as we thought, with one-third of the global population predicted to become climate refugees by 2070.
Climate change continues to ravage the planet even as we pay less attention. We're not going to have that option much longer, especially as warming temperatures and biodiversity loss contribute to the proliferation of viruses.
Interestingly, the congressional spending bill (currently being held up) includes key provisions to help curb climate change, including funding for carbon capture storage and a drawdown on HFCs. Joe Biden has vowed to make climate change an immediate focus of his administration. He's staying true to his word by appointing key staff members to senior positions to address the environment on day one.
International businesses and governments are already addressing such issues: The first zero-carbon social housing project is underway in Italy while the Dutch government is replacing 10 percent of asphalt roads with green spaces (more is planned). Here in America, engineers are creating concrete variants out of bacteria in hopes of promoting more sustainable architecture. A marriage between public and private efforts is going to be needed.
Letting go of the unnecessary
As with climate change, consumer spending is down out of necessity more than desire. While online shopping is up since the pandemic began, overall average spending is down in food and beverages, digital entertainment, media and books, fashion, household products, and online education. The travel industry has been hit especially hard.These trends have created even more outsized economic imbalances, with centibillionaires (people worth more than $100 billion) adding trillions of dollars to their already unimaginable wealth. For most, however, the pandemic has forced people to reconsider their spending habits by focusing only on the necessary. While the initial pain point of such an exercise is emotionally challenging, this is a net positive, especially given the fact that man-made stuff now outweighs natural biomass. Humans can't continue to produce so many goods without consequences; this spending slowdown is a wake-up call to that fact.
Photo: dottedyeti / Adobe Stock
Remote working is our new reality
The work-from-home (WFH) phenomenon has been expedited thanks to the pandemic. Now that half of the US labor force is accustomed to remote work, it's going to be difficult to convince many employees of an imminent return to the office.
WFH is not without its challenges. The social aspect of many workplaces is irreplaceable; Zoom just doesn't cut it. Social comforts aside, WFH is a positive trend in many aspects. Commercial real estate is taking a hit—well, some cities are merely seeing a shift, not an exodus—but benefits include no commute time (which has a positive impact on carbon emissions) and spending more time with your family.
Not every career will allow for WFH. Tech, finance, and media companies will allow continued WFH or at least flex time between home and office. Supply chain companies will have no such luck, at least not on the ground. For many businesses, it's up to C-level executives, with some believing that communing together in a shared space is essential for the health of the company and others happy to save on office costs. The future of remote work will be decided on a case-by-case basis, but one thing is certain: More companies will choose to try out this model.
Remembering that community matters
In the most fractured time in modern history, will Americans come together? While there's no clear answer, we can hope.
"Calling in" is one sign that we're progressing. Instead of the famous (some would say infamous) trend of calling people out, women like Smith college professor Loretta J Ross are helping create a call-in culture. Instead of alienating people, they're looking to empower them.
This follows up decades of business research by Hungarian-American psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, who coined the terms "flow" and "flow states" in 1975. In his 2003 book, Good Business, he points out that managers are more successful in implementing better work habits when inspiring employees, not chastising them for flubbing a duty. Extrapolating from this research, we can apply such a mindset broadly. Shame certainly has a place in society, just not as dominant a one as we currently believe.
This is no easy task in an age governed by quick trigger fingers on social media. That said, perhaps necessity will once again inspire us; many people are tired and frustrated by the constant bickering and call-outs. A time when everyone is called in is unlikely given our tribal nature, but any uptick in attempts of creating genuine community is worthwhile.
Stay in touch with Derek on Twitter and Facebook. His new book is "Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."
Jonathan Berman wants us to have better dialogues.
- In his book, "Anti-vaxxers," science educator Jonathan Berman aims to foster better conversations about vaccines.
- While the anti-vax movement in America has grown, more Americans now say they'll get a COVID-19 vaccine.
- In this Big Think interview, Berman explains why he's offering an ear to the anti-vax movement.
As two COVID-19 vaccines roll out in America, Pew Research reported a rare glimmer of hope in the ongoing saga of vaccine disinformation: the number of citizens willing to get a vaccine increased to 60 percent. The trend is moving in the right direction, course-correcting anti-vaccination rhetoric that led to the first increase in measles cases (and the highest number of measles deaths) in the modern era.
While we have fabricated research by disbarred doctor Andrew Wakefield to thank for this trend, anti-vaccination efforts are tethered to the first vaccinations. As with seemingly every topic, vaccines are a wedge issue, with a fervent cohort of anti-vaxxers going so far as to be "single-issue voters."
Jonathan Berman, an assistant professor in the Department of Basic Sciences at NYITCOM-Arkansas, grew tired of seeing all of the "dunking on anti-vaxxers." As with many science advocates, he grew skeptical of the anti-vaxx movement while studying for his degree in the aughts. Though he agreed with Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, he recognized them as bullies. Berman wanted to grapple with the underlying reasons for opposing vaccination rather than just write them off.
Those reasons, which comprise a chapter of his recent book, "Anti-vaxxers: How to Challenge a Misinformed Movement" (MIT Press), include issues of social class, race, individual liberties, individual and collective rights, distrust of authority, and changing ideas about health and medicine. Instead of exhibiting knee-jerk reactions, he wants to offer compassion and empathy while expressing critical thinking when analyzing the science of vaccines. As Berman recently explained of anti-vaxxers,
"They're making a risk evaluation just like we're making a risk evaluation. They're doing it in a less reasonable and healthy way and arriving at the wrong decision. That doesn't mean that we have to call them stupid or act like they're foolish. It means we can have a conversation with them. Hopefully, that's a more productive way to go about it."
Conspirituality 31 interview: Jonathan Berman
As he wrote the book before the pandemic hit, Berman is a bit dismayed (though not surprised) by the growth of the anti-vaccine movement. He noticed a convergence point this year: anti-mask and anti-lockdown proponents (as well as QAnon devotees) learned a set of tactics from the longstanding anti-vax movement, while anti-vaxxers took the energy of "personal liberty" and "bodily sovereignty" being expressed by those groups.
There have been a number of anti-vax leaders whose star has risen this year: Mikki Willis has surged since the release of his Plandemic film; Del Bigtree, whose show "The Highwire" is in large part funded by hedge fund managers, is growing more influential; and gynecologist Christiane Northrup, who has used her social media platforms to promote QAnon-related and anti-vax sentiments, is also seeing a rise in followers. As Berman writes, celebrities are not the best sources of information, and their intentions might not be as benevolent as they seem.
"There's a degree of grift in what they're doing. They're collecting donations from their audience of anti-vaccine people they've built up."
Science sometimes suffers from lack of celebrity. Paul A. Offit will never be Neil deGrasse Tyson or Bill Nye. While a select few science educators break through, vaccination advocates are unlikely to achieve that level of star power. Berman, one of the founders of the "March for Science" movement—a rare mainstream moment of science advocacy in the Trump era—knows the difficulty of spreading the gospel of sound scientific methods.
Navigating the tricky terrain of vaccines is difficult. Thankfully, Berman's excellent book offers hope. Twenty-two concise chapters pack a lot of punch: the history of both vaccines and the anti-vax movement; dangerous ploys by grifters; the science of vaccines; and a chapter on vaccine ingredients, like adjuvants.
While Berman is pro-vaccine, he believes Pfizer and Moderna deserve scrutiny. Commentary from outside organizations and researchers should be offered. That said, while pharmaceutical companies certainly have a track record of corporate greed, vaccines only account for 2 percent of profits—hardly cash cows like painkillers and antidepressants.
Berman laughs off the occasional criticism that he's a paid shill. "I'm still on the negative on the book—just because of caffeine purchases while I was writing it."
Disinformation abounds in the modern era. Posts about the dangers of thimerasol and aluminum persist even though neither are in the Pfizer vaccine. Berman advocates for pushing back against misinformation with better data.
"The coronavirus vaccine—these are very simple formulations. There's salt, RNA, and a lipid to help the RNA cross cell membranes. If someone says there's aluminum in that, you can say, 'not in this one.' And if someone says there's mercury in that, you can say, 'not in this one.'"
He knows the challenges that lie ahead. Still, as Pew shows, more Americans understand the role that vaccines play in reaching a post-pandemic world. Berman concludes our talk on what you might say is a hopeful note.
"We're not going to get everyone on board. We just need to get enough people on board."
Stay in touch with Derek on Twitter and Facebook. His new book is "Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."
Of course, it's all about where you move. The authors argue that it needs to be less populous regions.
- Moving from densely-populated urban regions is more effective in stopping the spreading of disease than closing borders.
- Two researchers from Spain and Italy ran 10,000 simulations to discover that travel bans are ultimately ineffective.
- Smaller cities might suffer high rates of infection, but the nation overall could benefit from this model.
As the holiday season approaches, tens of millions of Americans will not be seeing their families or loved ones this year. On the flip side, tens of millions will travel locally, nationally, and even internationally (where they can get in). The reality of "two Americas" has wedged itself into the conversation of coronavirus dangers, which we can see clearly in our travel patterns.
Few questions have inflamed the national consciousness this year as "Are lockdowns necessary?" and "Should we close our borders?" A new study, published in the appropriately named journal Chaos, dissects this issue by looking at migration patterns.
In a simulation study that included 10,000 iterations, Spanish researcher Massimiliano Zanin and Italian researcher David Papo argue that moving away from densely-populated urban regions is far more effective in stopping the spreading of disease than closing borders.
The authors wanted to know if banning travel is the ideal way of stopping the spread of disease. While it seems to be a commonsense approach to some—stop mobility patterns and the virus won't spread—the authors point to research that suggests allowing for some travel actually hinders infection rates. Of course, it depends on where people travel—or, in this case, move.
Regardless, a smart flow of traffic turns out to be a better solution than an outright ban on travel.
"Our results confirm that, under certain conditions, allowing individuals to move from regions of high to low infection rates may turn out to have a positive effect on aggregate; such positive effect is nevertheless reduced if a directional flow is allowed."
Naturally, when we think of restrictions, we consider international travel bans. This pandemic played out differently, however, with regional bans enforced as well. Of course, putting restrictions on regions with low infection rates—this happened in the United States, Italy, and Spain, for example—has the potential of increasing the spread of the virus there, but the authors were more interested in how the entire system operates.
Credit: Alexander Ozerov / Adobe Stock
The author realizes this model has limitations. Their focus was purely on population densities. Ideally, mobility during a pandemic coincides with public health measures, such as wearing a mask, washing your hands, and self-quaranting—factors that differ radically depending on what region you happen to be in.
While their modeling is hypothetical, it does track with real-world migration patterns. A mass exodus has been occurring from New York City, for example. The reasons for so many people fleeing are manifold, but the pandemic certainly catalyzed the migration. Similar trends are occurring in Los Angeles and San Francisco.
In their paper, Zanin and Papo wonder if forced relocation, from high-density to low-density regions, could be proactively enforced. Of course, there would be political pushback for initiating such measures, though it appears it could impact the spread of disease as well.
The authors also note that their model does not take into account the impact on regional health care systems, which, at least in America, are often not equipped to handle population increases. And they recognize the political concern—hypothetical modeling does not necessarily take ethical considerations into question.
That said, this is and will remain a political issue. As Zanin says, the success of any pandemic response lies in the cooperation between national and regional governments looking at their country as a whole, as well as considering the impact of their actions on the rest of the planet.
"Collaboration between different governments and administrations is an essential ingredient towards controlling a pandemic, and one should consider the possibility of small-scale sacrifices to reach a global benefit."