Coronavirus Chronicles — Is PTSD Another Pandemic?

One difference between today and six months ago is, some people have gotten over the idea that children can neither catch nor transmit the novel coronavirus. Another difference is that grownups are increasingly aware of the drawbacks of not having in-person school.

None of the patchwork solutions is satisfactory. If kids go to school, the danger is constant. If they are kept home for distance learning or parental schooling, they are constantly underfoot, to no one’s satisfaction. If the school has a part-time schedule, parents lucky enough to be employed have to figure out how to navigate around that and still make a living.

Even back in June, predictions were being made of catastrophic results from school closures. British educational psychologist Dr. Gavin Morgan felt that whatever difficulties the lack of school attendance was already causing were nothing compared to the long-range negative effects. He told The Guardian,

Teachers are already familiar with the six-week dip that occurs in child development over the summer break — amplify this to six months or more and the problems are considerable… A sustained period away from school will reinforce inequalities between children, for instance a growing digital divide with some able to access remote learning with effective IT and good broadband, which others can’t.

In other words, the gap widens between the haves and the have-nots. This isn’t just a financial thing. Even if the home environment is bleak and unrewarding, some kids manage to eke out an adequate emotional existence by forming bonds with classmates or even teachers, which Morgan describes as “incredibly important for their mental health and wellbeing.” With a closed school, that’s all gone. With a masked and socially-distanced part-time school, a faint vestige of sustaining warmth might remain, but it’s nothing like the old days.

Unequal and unfair

On top of everything else, COVID-19 is not an equal-opportunity oppressor. Non-white children are statistically more likely to catch it. Obese children are more likely to catch it. Kids whose nutritional needs are not met will end up in worse shape than those who at least have access to vegetables now and then.

Fortunately, most children probably will not catch the contagion. But even without getting actually sick, Dr. Morgan predicted that the ones who don’t have any kind of outlet or any appropriate place to play and run would be more deprived.

There already were not enough school psychologists, and if school schedules ever “normalize” again, the need for psychological help will be even more difficult to meet than before. Dr. Morgan wrote,

The most vulnerable children are being affected the most from missing school. For many youngsters, school is the most stable and secure part of their lives…

Months away from school will mean that emerging developmental problems are missed by educational psychologists, opportunities for early intervention will be lost, resulting in greater damage to children that will require longer and more costly interventions.

It comes as no surprise that obesity is one of those emerging developmental problems. The responsibilities and efforts of schools to monitor obesity have never been satisfactory to all parties, but at least there was a chance that a knowledgeable adult with some authority might “see something and say something.”

Obesity tracking is important, but now we have a situation where isolation, financial stress, and many other factors combine to make serious harm and abuse more likely to happen and less likely to be noticed and reported to child welfare authorities. And then, Dr. Morgan lays this shocker on us:

Evidence from previous pandemic studies show that children isolated or quarantined are more likely to develop acute stress disorder, attachment disorder and grief. In studies from across the world, 30% of children met the clinical criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Children’s mental health will suffer irreparably if schools don’t reopen soon,”, 06/20/20
Image by Pete/CC BY 2.0

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OVERWEIGHT: What Kids Say explores the obesity problem from the often-overlooked perspective of children struggling with being overweight.

About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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