6  April 2021

One in four young Australian children (1-5 years) are experiencing higher than average levels of anxiety while living in our new ‘COVID-normal’, the latest findings of our COVID-19 Unmasked study has found.

Children who experienced a second extended lockdown, such as those in Victoria, are particularly vulnerable, with the second round of the national survey finding a significant increase in anxiety, depression and attachment-seeking behaviours among this group.

Lead researcher Dr Alex De Young, of Children’s Health Queensland’s Queensland Centre for Perinatal and Infant Mental Health, said even though Australia’s experience of COVID-19 had been much less severe than in other countries, some children and parents were still experiencing anxiety and stress related to the ongoing threat, uncertainty and unpredictable nature of life during a pandemic.

“More than 370 families completed the second survey in October and November­, around the time we had the second wave in Australia. This enabled us to compare the group of families who experienced the second lockdown in Victoria with families living in the rest of Australia, as well as look at changes in mental health since the first survey.”

“One in four children were still experiencing higher than average levels of anxiety symptoms, such as being fearful, worried or tense,” Dr De Young said. “Fortunately, the occurrence of these symptoms had not increased significantly since the first survey for the children who have not experienced a second lockdown.”

“However, children and parents who experienced a second lockdown, including enforced home confinement, travel restrictions and mandatory mask wearing, have struggled with their mental health.

“Up to 12% of children who went through a second lockdown experienced very high levels of mental health difficulties. Anxiety was most common and there was a marked increase in depression symptoms and attachment seeking behaviours, such as increases clinginess and needing a lot of attention.”

“Overall, children and parents are showing resilience and good mental health and wellbeing, but these latest findings highlight the importance of monitoring for signs of anxiety and stress in very young children and providing parents with access to resources to support mental health and parenting during this time of continued uncertainty,” Dr De Young said.

Some signs to look out for include increased sadness, not enjoying fun activities, separation anxiety, going backwards in previously developed skills, not wanting to leave the house and frequent worries about getting sick or dying from COVID-19.

“While these difficulties are likely to be temporary for most, some children and parents may require higher levels of psychological support. This is especially the case for families living in Victoria.”

For more about the survey and the findings so far visit  childrens.health.qld.gov.au/covid-19-unmasked/

Read the media release