Meet the Board: Reflecting on COVID, Mental Health, and Child Well-Being

January 26, 2022

By Betsy Schur Levy, Ph.D., Field Center Advisory Board Member

By way of introduction, my name is Dr. Betsy Schur Levy and I am a practicing Clinical Psychologist in New York City. As a Psychology major at the University of Pennsylvania, I further developed a lifelong passion to study and devote my career to promoting the mental health of children, adults and families. I then pursued my PhD at Columbia University and have been teaching and providing clinical supervision and psychotherapy for over 30 years. In addition, I served as the consulting psychologist at the 92nd Street Y Nursery School. My work in the field of mental health has been challenged like never before with the onset of the Covid pandemic.

One consistent theme that permeates the development of mental health in children is the ability to develop and maintain positive self-regard, a sense of self-love and self-acceptance. These most critical variables are intrinsically related to feelings of love, affection and recognition from significant others and the successful independent navigation of interpersonal relationships and responsibilities (at school, home and in the community). These factors further enhance self-esteem. Self-esteem is also affected by the complex development of the self and the functional ego (the component of the personality that allows individuals to act and interact in the world) during childhood, as well as mood and mood regulation, developed through stable and responsive relationships.

What has the pandemic done to these variables? How does a child grow and thrive when feeling so unsafe and filled with fear, unpredictability and danger? The family system is threatened from every angle. Parents are scared, tired and overwhelmed by the pressure to fulfill the basic needs of their families. This is all under the essential protection of the mask and intermittent periods of isolation. While reaping the health benefits of mask-wearing, our children are denied access to the facial expressions of others and further challenged to read social cues. With the risk of Covid transmission centered on our minds, many children express a hesitance to talk, touch, run and play without fear of physical illness and bodily harm. Their sense of freedom and their trust in a safe and secure environment is devastated by Covid. Children need safety, peers, school and structure – dimensions which have been threatened by the onset of the pandemic. They need to learn to how to resolve and negotiate conflict in successful manners in their daily lives. They need others (both emotionally and physically) and they desperately need opportunities to develop these interpersonal skills while adapting to the mitigations that Covid requires.

During this long pandemic children and adolescents have reported higher levels of anxiety and depression. However, children are remarkably resilient and a recovery can be made. We must hope that the foundations of mental health are re-built and that society recognizes the impact that the pandemic has had. Our future is our children. This is why I have become devoted to the work at the Field Center—a center determined to research, develop and implement child welfare strategies that will make a difference in the lives of all children and families at risk, from pandemic-related adversities and beyond.

< Return to Blog