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ALABAMA (WHNT) — As we enter yet another week of virtual learning, experts say online schooling may be having an impact on a child’s mental health.

School closures, learning online, limited contact with friends and the cancellation of activities is unsettling.

Mental health experts say that sudden school closures and the absence of after-school activities have had more of an impact than just poor grades. Enforced online learning during the school year has led to a host of unexpected challenges for parents and caregivers.

The most common misconception during the pandemic is that children aren’t affected much by COVID-19, and if they were to get sick, the symptoms would be mild.  

“We’re seeing things that we’ve rarely seen before,” said Daniel Marullo, a child psychologist at UAB Children’s of Alabama.  

Dr. Marullo said he has seen firsthand that the pandemic is taking a toll on the mental health of children. He stated that even before the pandemic, mental health challenges facing children were a big concern.  

“With the pandemic, we’ve certainly seen a huge leap, a huge increase in mental health disorders in children of all ages,” Marullo added. “Certainly, younger children as well as teenagers. We see it in the data, and we are also seeing it clinically. Just in our own experience and our work around the community.” 

Marullo said there has been an obvious increase in diagnosed depression, anxiety, eating disorders, higher rates of substance abuse and an uptick in emergency room visits among teens. 

“The surgeon general just came out with a report indicating that we are in a mental health crisis.” said Marullo. “That has literally put an official stamp that many of us in the field have recognized for several years particularly in Alabama where it’s very difficult to access resources and its been compounded with COVID.” 

The American Academy of Pediatrics estimates that over 140,000 children have lost at least one parent due to COVID-19 infection. Some children, the studies say, have been orphaned. 

“Sixty-five percent of those children who have been orphaned are either Black, Latino or Indigenous,” said Dr. Nusheen Ameenuddin, a Pediatrician at the Mayo Clinic. “Despite the fact they only make up around thirty-nine percent of the U.S. population, that’s really striking, and unfortunately lays bearer the really serious inequities that we’ve seen in COVID-19.”

Marullo says the importance of relationships with adults outside of the home – teachers, coaches and youth leaders, is so consistently understated. Yet studies show that it is so important to a child’s mental development.