Dr. Phil causes stir on 'The View' with criticism about COVID school shutdowns

Dr. Phil McGraw caused a stir on "The View" after unexpectedly veering into criticizing COVID-19 school closures for children's poor mental health.

In an interview that aired Monday on the daytime talk show, McGraw started answering co-host Sara Haines' question about a statement he made in his new book, "We've Got Issues: How You Can Stand Strong for America’s Soul and Sanity" (out tomorrow), about being "the best voice" in his kids' ears as they contend with the pressures of social media.

The former "Dr. Phil" host, whose show ended after 21 seasons last year, drew a parallel between the rise of smartphones and children's declining mental health and said, "COVID hits 10 years later, and the same agencies that knew that" children were reporting higher rates of mental health issues "are the agencies that shut down the schools for two years."

"Who does that? Who takes away the support system for these children?" he said.

Sunny Hostin interjected, "There was also a pandemic going on. They were trying to save people's lives."

Dr. Phil McGraw argued against pandemic-era school closures on Monday's episode of "The View," citing children's mental health.
Dr. Phil McGraw argued against pandemic-era school closures on Monday's episode of "The View," citing children's mental health.

"They were trying to save kids' lives," Whoopi Goldberg said. "Remember, we know a lot of folks who died during this. So people weren't laying around eating bon bons."

McGraw interrupted: "Not school children."

Goldberg replied, "Maybe we're lucky they didn't (go to school) because we kept them out of the places where they could be sick because no one wanted to believe we had an issue."

Last year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Data Summary and Trends Report, which collected data between 2011 and 2021, reported that "nearly all indicators of poor mental health and suicidal thoughts and behaviors increased from 2011 to 2021" for high school students.

Dr. Phil says children 'suffered' from 'the mismanagement of COVID'

Co-host Ana Navarro got one question in for McGraw before the interview ended. She asked, "Are you saying no schoolchildren died of COVID?"

"I'm saying it was the safest group. They were the less vulnerable group and they suffered and − will suffer more − from the mismanagement of COVID than they will from the exposure to COVID," McGraw said. "And that's not an opinion; that's a fact."

Goldberg wrapped the segment despite the hosts' engagement with the hot topic. "Well, Phil, we don't even have time to talk it out now," she said.

According to clinicians who studied patients for a year, they estimated that 5% to 10% of children and teens develop post-COVID (or long COVID) symptoms, Dr. Roberta DeBiasi, chief of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Children’s National Hospital in Washington, said last year. COVID-19 deaths among children are rare; CDC data shows nearly 1,800 children 0-17 years old, or 0.15%, have died from the disease.

The academic journal Nature Human Behaviour published a report in January 2023 that concluded students in 15 countries were set back by about a third of a year due to the combination of pandemic-related school closures, the shift to virtual learning where it was even an option and the mental health toll.

In a 2021 interview with USA TODAY, speaking about Americans debating over COVID-19 vaccines, McGraw urged people not to listen to athletes or celebrities – including himself.

"I'm not an infectious disease expert. I encourage people to get the vaccine because I think it's a selfless thing to do," he said. "The only reason people should listen to me is because I refer them to the scientists, and if what I say doesn't withstand the test of science, then throw it out."

On "The View," speaking about returning to TV with a primetime show on his newly formed network, McGraw teased being able to say things he was previously unable to discuss on a daytime talk show.

"I've already been getting some warnings about that. You can only go so far," he told the hosts.

Contributing: Nirvi Shah, USA TODAY

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Dr. Phil on 'The View': Hosts debate pandemic school closures