Understanding the impact of pandemic education disruption and community-level socioeconomic status on longitudinal mental health outcomes in children and youth using innovative statistical methods

Kuan Liu, Dalla Lana School of Public Health; Jennifer Jenkins, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education; Geoffrey Anderson, Dalla Lana School of Public Health; Beverley Essue, Dalla Lana School of Public Health

Public health mitigation policies have led to widespread education disruption. Social interactions, intellectual simulation, and the surrounding environment during school hours play a key role in the development of school-aged children and youth. Social isolation for extended periods of time may trigger and exacerbate anxiety, depression and substance abuse and disproportionately impact families from more material and social deprived neighbourhoods. The effects of education disruption on mental health may be long lasting. Although evidence exists on short-term impact, the temporal and spatial intersectionality between school closure and socioeconomic status (SES) on mental health outcomes among children and youth remains unexplored.

Our study aims to evaluate the complex effects of pandemic mitigation measures and the dynamic role of neighborhood social vulnerability and resilience on mental health of children and youth. The objectives are to leverage an interdisciplinary collaboration and readily available administrative data to: i) identify neighbourhood clusters with different trajectories clusters of longitudinal mental health outcomes by SES and identify factors associated with these clusters, and ii) to estimate time-varying causal effects of school closures on repeatedly measured mental health outcomes stratified by community-level SES and by neighbourhood clusters.

Our study will generate new knowledge on the differential impact of school closure at community-level and provide crucial evidence to inform and develop targeted and equitable pandemic recovery interventions and policy. As we recover from pandemics, it is pivotal to understand the population-based impact of education disruption across time and geographical regions, diverse socioeconomics groups and made-vulnerable populations.