The COVID-19 pandemic, or more precisely, the enforced measures that were put in place during the past 18 months, are responsible for the elevated stress in pregnant women according to researchers.
This has resulted in children born during this time having significantly reduced verbal, motor and overall cognitive performance compared to children born pre-pandemic. This is because the unborn child is susceptible to genetic and environmental factors that can alter its lifelong trajectory of brain development. Which means that the adverse effects can even be seen during adolescence and have the potential to cause the child to suffer with depression at age 18 years of age.
The government published a report on the 12th October 2021 denying that they knew to what extent their measures would cause disruption to people’s lives. However, the report has no mention of the lives of the children born during the crisis or the harm to them that their measures have potentially caused, that could last way beyond the pandemic.
Can they really deny that they could not predict it?
By Patricia Harrity
COULD THE GOVERNMENT HAVE PREDICTED THIS?
Very recently, the House of Commons Health and Social Care and Science and Technology Committee published their report “Coronavirus: Lessons Learned to Date” October 12th, 2021. Within it they state that there was a desire to avoid their own measure of lockdown “because of the immense harm it would entail to the economy, normal health services and society”.
However, they later state that resulting from closed businesses, damaged livelihoods and the separation of friends and families, our lives have been disrupted “to an extent few predicted”. It could be assumed that it would be the role of the Scientific Advisory Group on Emergencies (SAGE) to not only “predict” but to know the extent of disruption.
SAGE AND THE BEHAVIOURAL PSYCHOLOGISTS
Co-chaired by Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer, and Sir Patrick Vallance, the government chief scientific adviser (GCSA), essentially SAGE is an “expert group” activated in an emergency and convene to provide scientific and technical advice for the government to direct their response to an emergency. A large part of this response was in the hands of the SAGE behavioural psychologists, led by Susan Michie, who advised the government and media of the most impactful interventions to affect behavioural change during the crisis.
These can be read in a government document released on 22nd March 2020, Options for increasing adherence to social distancing measures. Within the interventions they encouraged communities to show level social disapproval, as an effective tool and within an intervention termed, Persuasion, they said that a perceived level of personal threat needed to be increased among those who are complacent, using hard-hitting emotional messaging.
THE INCITEMENT OF FEAR
This guidance was to help create the governmental policies said to be necessary to prevent the spread of COVID -19 and resulted in many people feeling the effects of the psychological anchor of their harsh restrictions and the incitement of fear.
The country was subjected to visuals out of Wuhan of people dropping dead in the street and daily figures broadcast on all media, of fatalities from the accumulation of deaths deemed to be “with” COVID, despite the deaths being from a multitude of ailments.
In fact, the government terrorised the population, creating and reinforcing widespread fear: fear of infection, fear of infecting our “grannies” and other family members, fear of job and business loss, potential poverty and homelessness and even fear of being caught not adhering to the measures among many other governmental created fears! The behavioural scientists and therefore the government really ought to have known exactly how their incitement of fear would disrupt people’s lives.
You don’t have to be a rocket scientist, or even a behavioural scientist!
DEPRESSION FIGURES ROSE DURING PANDEMIC MEASURES
Nor do you need to be a behavioural scientist to read the openly available data where the effects of the measures and fear show in the results of an ONS survey that reported that around 19% of adults had experienced some form of depression in June 2020.
Source: Office for National Statistics – 1 Source: Office for National Statistics – 1 In early 2021, adults aged 16 to 29 years were most likely to experience some form of depression (34%). People aged 70 years and over were least likely to experience some form of depression (10%) when compared with any other age group. According to ONS figures (Figure 1)
Figures that would have given the government an indication therefore, that an intervention was needed to prevent a worsening situation. That was not the case and by the lockdown early 2021 the figures rose to 21%. According to the ONS this could be the effects of being asked to stay at home during lockdown.
The ONS figures show that some sections of society are more likely to be affected, for example, the levels were high in younger adults, possibly impacted by economic factors. Yet, it was young women who had particularly high rates with an alarming over four in ten (43%) experiencing some form of depression in the first part of 2021. Important to note, the figures are very likely to be higher than the ONS survey reports due to the reluctance of many to bother an already “overwhelmed” GP or NHS, that is, if they were even able to access a GP.
Source: Office for National Statistics – 2 Women were more likely than men to experience some form of depression across all age groups, with over 4 in 10 (43%) women aged 16 to 29 years experiencing depressive symptoms compared with 26% of men of the same age
A CRITICAL PHASE OF NEURODEVELOPMENT
However, pregnant women also had a fear of attending prenatal appointments during the pandemic and had to cope without their usual support network of day-care, schools, family and friends. Research shows that these stresses can cause maternal depression and anxiety which is a critical phase in neurodevelopment and can lead to alterations to the infant brain affecting brain functions such as emotion, long-term memory issues, and behavioural problems such as hyperactivity and aggression.
With this is mind, researchers conducted a new study in 2021 of 8602 women from Calgary and concluded that the mothers showed clinically significant depression in 33% of the cases and anxiety symptoms 47% which was substantially elevated in comparison to pre-pandemic distress levels and population norms.
Prenatal distress social support
SOCIAL SUPPORT PLAYS A ROLE IN PREVENTING PRENATAL DISTRESS
They also discovered for the first time, that social support plays a role not only upon the impact of prenatal distress on pregnant individuals, but also on the developing infant brain. Prenatal distress was negatively related to infant brain functional connectivity in mothers with low social support, but this relationship was not present in individuals with high social support.
The researchers then examined 75 babies from the women who were found to have elevated distress levels and compared them to results from general childhood cognitive scores in 2020 and 2021 vs. the preceding decade, 2011-2019. Using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) at 3-months of age they found that prenatal maternal distress was associated with infant brain changes suggest a potentially long-lasting impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on children.
IF THEY KNEW THE DISRUPTION TO LIVES, THEY SHOULDN’T BE IN POSITION OF GOVERNANCE, IF THEY DIDN’T, THEY SHOULDN’T BE IN A POSITION OF GOVERNANCE
This shows that even in the absence of direct SARS-CoV-2 infection and COVID-19 illness, the measure enforced by our own government had significant detrimental effects on a vulnerable section of society. With scientific evidence conducted over previous years freely available, it would be hard to believe that the government and their behavioural psychologist advisors could not predict how their policies and interventions would have disrupted the lives of these young mothers and their new babies. If they, however, did know, it is shameful that they still went ahead with the measures, if they did not know then it is shameful that we are still allowing them to be in a position of governance.
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