A few weeks ago, several prominent child and adolescent mental health experts called on the government in an open letter to prioritise young people as the country begins to lift lockdown restrictions. Despite Johnson’s initial statement that he expected all primary school aged children to be back at school before the summer holidays, the government later backtracked, meaning the majority of children (unless their parents were keyworkers) have not been to school for months.
Their letter emphasises the urgency of helping young people return to school, as it runs the risk of “creating a huge attainment gap” affecting the most vulnerable young people, including those from BAME background, low income families, and those with special educational needs.
The Extent of the Mental Health Impact
Returning to school and extra-curricular activities would also help young people return to a familiar routine and be able to socialise with their peers, which in turn could help improve their emotional wellbeing. The mental health impacts of lockdown on young people cannot be ignored, with several surveys by well-known mental health charities, and initial academic research showing lockdown has had a significant affect on young people’s mental health. For example, a survey by Banardo’s found that young people have felt ignored during the pandemic, and reported that a third of children felt like their mental health had got worse during lockdown (Banardos 2020). Another report, this time by charity Young Minds, found that 80% reported worsening mental health, and 87% had felt lonely during lockdown (Young Minds, 2020). Currently, research is focused on the initial impacts of lockdown, therefore it will be important to see whether there is any change in these figures once the long term impacts of lockdown have been measured.
Disruption to Mental Health Care
Mental health services have stayed open during the pandemic, adapting to the current environment, for example by moving care online. Despite this, young people have reported barriers to accessing ongoing care. Initial data collected by the You-COPE study found that almost 60% of those young people aged between 16-24 who took part reported disruption to their care (Crosby et al 2020). Young Minds also found that almost a third of the young people in their survey who were accessing mental health support before lockdown are now unable to access care at all, despite still needing support (Young Minds, 2020).
Charities such as Unicef are calling for the UK government to create a ‘Children’s Recovery Plan’ to make sure that schools and other children’s services have the necessary resources to open safely and provide the necessary support for young people (Unicef, 2020).
Results from the initial research indicates that lockdown has had a negative impact on young people’s mental health, particularly for those who already had difficulties with their mental health. The closure of schools is also likely to affect vulnerable young people more significantly than their peers. In a time when the government are prioritising economic recovery, it is vital they don’t overlook the impact the pandemic is having on young people in the UK.
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Banardos (2020) Generation lockdown: a third of children and young people experience increased mental health difficulties. Accessed 16/07/20 https://www.barnardos.org.uk/news/generation-lockdown-third-children-and-young-people-experience-increased-mental-health
Accessed 16/07/20 https://youngminds.org.uk/about-us/reports/coronavirus-impact-on-young-people-with-mental-health-needs/