By Julie B. Kaplow and Mark W. Kline
No infectious disease since HIV/AIDS in the 1980s has captured the world’s attention in the way COVID-19 has. The HIV/AIDS pandemic is still with us nearly 40 years later. Effective treatment has made HIV/AIDS a manageable medical condition rather than the almost certain death sentence it was in the beginning, but a vaccine still eludes us. More than 32 million people have died of HIV/AIDS since the beginning of the pandemic, including about 700,000 Americans. Children were almost an afterthought in the early days of HIV/AIDS. Many children died, and even more suffered emotionally in response to the deaths of caregivers and relatives.
So far, it appears that children are being spared the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic from a physical health perspective, but there is no doubt that there will be lifelong mental health consequences. Proactive measures implemented now, including raising awareness regarding children’s trauma and grief-related responses to the pandemic, can mitigate these potentially debilitating outcomes.
Research tells us that youth who have experienced prior traumas and losses — nearly half of U.S. children — are at significantly higher risk of developing mental health problems in the face of current adversity.