Self-isolation during the pandemic has helped keep us safe, but it’s taken a unique toll on children’s mental health. Increased disconnection from friends and social circles, plus instability in school environments, has impacts on critical developmental stages of many young people.
But just how deeply do these effects go? With the help of emergency nurses, the Doan research team at BC Children’s Hospital aims to find out — they’ve launched an ongoing study with the goal of understanding and improving the mental health of children and teens using an electronic, clinical assessment tool called MyHEARTSMAP.
The research team has adapted this from HEARTSMAP — the standard assessment tool for youth admitted to the hospital’s pediatric emergency department since 2015 — and is now using the same criteria to assess the mental health needs of children inside their homes.
To help describe the type and severity of these concerns, the project rates the youth’s social and psychological status in 10 areas: home, education and activities, alcohol and drugs, relationships and bullying, thoughts and anxiety, safety, sexual health, mood, abuse, and professionals and resources for mental health.
The project is currently looking for participants aged 10 to 17 (or parents of children aged six to 17) who are living in BC to participate in this contactless study to measure just how much and in what way the pandemic has affected them.
“Taking part is simple and straightforward and only takes about 30 minutes,” said Dr. Quynh Doan, the lead researcher on the project, in an interview with BC Children’s Hospital Research Institute.
Once registered, a research assistant will contact the family to go over informed consent with the parent and assent with the child. Then, participants fill out a form explaining how COVID-19 has affected their mental health before taking a quick 10 to 15 minutes to fill out the MyHEARTSMAP self-assessment tool. The last step comes three months later with a short follow-up survey and second self-assessment, and that’s it.
As well as being a great opportunity to contribute to current research, this study also helps guide families to relevant mental health resources. If at any point, the self-assessment triggers any severe and urgent concerns, a study research nurse will check in on the family to ensure they have access to appropriate help.
It’s also a great way to start an important conversation — in some cases, participation in the study has helped foster open dialogues about mental health within families.
Families play an invaluable role in helping researchers discover what mental health support resources are needed to guide mental health system planning — to more accurately meet the needs of BC’s youth in these unpredictable and uncertain times.
If you’d like to participate in this study, visit MyHEARTSMAP to fill out a quick survey to start the process. If you have any questions, feel free to email the study team at [email protected], and a research assistant will be happy to get in contact with you.