Covid-19 has disrupted life Of children and young people who can not be recognized. Throughout the pandemic, research has been underway to assess the impact on young people’s mental health, but much of the research is of poor quality and therefore potentially misleading.
For example, a constantly updated collaborative global project, DEPRESSD, searches for research published in scholarly journals or as preprints on applicable platforms.
The project examined the titles and abstracts of nearly 74,000 pieces of research on mental health, and found – in particular – that only 170 studies are sufficiently accurate. Some, but not all, suggest increased anxiety, depression, behavioral problems, and mental health threats, such as poor sleep, decreased physical activity, and loneliness.
Here, we have compiled the results of the most rigorous research that contribute to our understanding of the mental impact on children and adolescents in the UK from Covid-19 and the resulting restrictions on public health.
The format and focus of some of this research, such as that provided only by government, research portals, or actual referral data, means that it does not appear in the DEPRESSD review, but all are of high quality.
COVID-19 and youth: a deterioration in mental health
The English Mental Health Survey for Children and Young People (MHCYP) and follow-up surveys indicate a deterioration in the mental health of young people. It found that the proportion of 6- to 16-year-olds with probable psychiatric disorders rose from one in nine in 2017 to one in six in both 2020 and 2021.
This deterioration was seen across age groups, gender and ethnicity. Children from families with financial or food insecurity or poor parental mental health reported poor mental health.
Children and young adults interact differently, and they also face different challenges, which is one reason why different studies may report conflicting results. For example, a study of 1,000 people aged 13 to 15 from southwest England found no change in depression but reduced anxiety symptoms between October 2019 and May 2020 when measured over all adolescents who participated.
However, when the sample was divided into adolescents who reported significant anxiety or depression before the pandemic and those who did not experience such difficulties, the adolescents who reported poor mental health in May 2020 performed significantly better than when they were first contacted. Children who felt less connected to school than their peers reported increased anxiety when schools reopened in September 2020.
School closures have particularly affected some families. Some children and young adults were hungry, had insufficient or no lessons, and little or no communication from their school. A survey of UK parents by education charity Sutton Trust found that 34 per cent of children and young people spend two hours or less learning each day during the first lockdown.
Research in Glasgow showed that families facing problems, such as financial insecurity, domestic violence or pre-existing mental health problems, were at increased risk of regression into vicious cycles of escalating distress.
In contrast, families who do not experience these challenges, particularly if they can work from home and have sufficient resources to support homeschooling, report that their initial concerns subsided quickly and that they value extra time together.
COVID-19 and Youth: Suffering at School
The amount of schoolwork that young people were able to complete during school closures was influenced by the extent to which parents were able to support their learning.
One in 10 parents reported that they lack devices such as tablets or computers to support distance education. This number increased significantly in families with only one parent. Poor access to distance education has been associated with poor mental health.
These findings suggest that we should avoid school closures as much as possible. Academic achievement is not the only area of interest here. School is where many children develop peer relationships and hone their social skills, especially given that most of them live in small-core families.
When necessary, we must support the most vulnerable families to form safe childcare bubbles to allow time outside the family home.
Another particular concern is the huge increase in emergency and urgent referrals for young people with eating disorders. This combined with a smaller but still significant increase in routine referrals reported by NHS England.
Fluctuations in mental health are not surprising in a time of global crisis. However, mental health conditions that begin in childhood often persist for years. Children pay a high developmental price as mental health problems affect their ability to function.
Child and adolescent mental health services were struggling to meet demand before the pandemic. Policies to improve provision have been only partially successful. We urgently need a coordinated response to promote mental health among children and youth across all services working with children and families.
This article was originally published Conversation by Tamsin Ford, Frankie Matthews and Simon Benham Clark. Read the original article here.