One in three children may be in need of mental health support to deal with the psychological aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, a new survey says.
The research, carried out by Northamptonshire mental health charity Youth Works, asked 969 young people aged 11–18 years about their wellbeing during the pandemic, how they coped, and how they felt about returning to school.
Findings were then compared with data from previous surveys by the Office of National Statistics (ONS) and NHS Digital to see how young people had been affected by the pandemic.
When asked directly about their wellbeing, most respondents (67%) had coped well, stating that their wellbeing was 'OK', 'Better' or 'Much better' compared with life before the pandemic.
However, the remainder of respondents (33%) stated that their wellbeing was 'Worse' or 'Much worse', indicating that the pandemic had taken its toll.
When responses were then analysed using an objective measure of wellbeing, a similar pattern emerged.
According to the ONS Wellbeing Measure, the proportion of young people with low wellbeing had increased to roughly 1 in 4 (24–27.7%), compared with roughly 1 in 20 (3.8–6.6%) in 2017.
“It’s great news that the majority of UK kids and young people have been able to cope with the mental health impact of the pandemic. Some even say that they have done better," said Dr Siobhan Currie, chair of Youth Works Northamptonshire. "However, it’s clear there is a significant increase in those who need support for mental health difficulties."
In response to the growing data pointing toward a significant impact of the pandemic on young peoples' mental health, the government has made several pledges to increase funding for youth mental health services.
In August 2020, an £8 million investment was announced as part of the so-called 'Wellbeing for Education Return' programme to support educational staff respond to additional pressures caused by the pandemic.
The largest investment boost was then announced in March in the form of a £79 million package for improving mental health support available in schools and colleges.
Returning to school was also explored in the Youth Works survey, with mixed results.
Almost 4 in 10 (38.2%) of respondent said they felt 'Positive' or 'Very positive' about returning to school, but 1 in 4 (26%) said they felt 'Negative' or 'Very negative'.
Further, when asked to choose 3 emotions to describe how they were feeling about school returns, 51% chose negative emotions.
In response to the findings, the researchers recommend improving school support services, and focusing on young people's emotional wellbeing.
"With the extra funding announced, including £8million Wellbeing in Education Return Fund, psychologists should focus on supporting schools to identify and provide the right support to those who need it most," added Dr Currie.
"We need to learn lessons and build on the coping methods that young people found most helpful.”
To read the full survey report, click here.
Written by Marco Ricci
Editor and contributor for Talking Mental Health