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Children and Young People’s Mental Health (in the context of Covid-19)

A Mental Health of Children and Young People survey in 2017 estimated that one in nine children were experiencing mental health disorders, which represented a 49% increase in emotional disorders compared to an earlier survey in 2004. To reflect on the potential impact of Covid-19 on child and adolescent mental health, we can consider a repeat survey in 2020 which presented the figure of one in six with a mental health disorder. It is challenging to assign this wholly to the impact of Covid-19, however, other studies have discussed the potential damaging impact of Covid-19 and the lock-downs on mental health and well-being of children and young people. Results from studies vary – for example, one UK study found that amongst 13-14 year olds there was a reduction in anxiety, no change in depression levels and increases in well-being during the first lock-down. In comparison, another study found that there was an increase in depression but no significant change in anxiety among 7-11 year olds during the first lockdown.

Authors of a longitudinal study in the UK (Co-SPACE) engaged with over 8,000 parents of 4-16 year olds on a monthly basis since the first week of the UK lock-down in March 2020. Findings here suggest that children of primary age were more likely to experience the impacts of being socially isolated. Older young people were more likely to be connecting with their peers. Although a good sized sample, this study was still largely associated with more affluent families and the authors acknowledge that the sample is not representative the UK population and that factors and impacts will vary considerably.

Girlguiding (2020) tracked girls’ and young women's views through the Girls’ Attitudes Survey for over a decade. More than 6,600 girls and young women aged between 4 and 18 were surveyed to explore how the pandemic and lockdown was affecting them. Mirroring the Co-SPACE study, the older young women (15-18) reported feeling particularly worried, stressed and overwhelmed and had concerns over their futures (missing education and exam cancellations). Of the younger population surveyed, 45% of girls ages 11-14 reported feeling stressed and 42% felt worried most of the time.

UK based charity Young Minds carried out a survey with adolescents who were already experiencing mental health difficulties pre pandemic. Participants expressed the need for structure and regular activities to promote mental well-being. Of more than 2,000 respondents 74% expressed benefits from the continued support provided during the initial lockdown. These sources of support were identified as:

  • Social connection with friends;

  • Taking exercise;

  • Playing or listening to music;

  • Being outdoors in nature;

  • Spending time with pets;

  • Writing/ keeping a journal.

A second survey by Young Minds was conducted with nearly 2,000 parents/carers who expressed concern about the long-term impact of the pandemic on their child’s mental health. 77% expressed significant concern if their children had already required mental health support.

The young people that are attending music sessions at the moment, I know are benefiting massively from it.

Lizzy Watkiss, Occupational Therapist

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