New findings suggest that teenagers are feeling more optimistic about their future as we near the lifting of lockdown restrictions, but loneliness and anxiety remain persistent issues
In 5 days, the UK is due to reduce lockdown restrictions to various degrees across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. For many, the 19th July offers a regaining of their sense of freedom, but for others, going back to 'normal' is a far more complicated ordeal.
Seemingly endless reports have suggested rises in mental health issues as people have tried to adapt to life at home and away from their friends and loved ones. And as we've neared an eventual return to 'normality', a recent study has suggested that 1 in 5 of us could be experiencing so-called 'Covid-19 anxiety syndrome.'
Included in this number are teenagers, for whom research suggests that lockdown restrictions has been particularly damaging with regards to their mental wellbeing. And just like everyone else, the effect(s) that moving out of lockdown will have on them seems too complex to predict, according to a new research,
In a study that began in summer 2020, the Mental Health Foundation, in partnership with Swansea University, asked teenagers (13–19 years old) about their mental wellbeing during the pandemic. The questions were asked of the same study population at several timepoints up until now, with the latest batch of results coming from 2349 teenagers who answered the survey between 24th May and 15th June this year.
According to the latest findings, some mental health concerns have decreased among teenagers as the date for restrictions being lifted has crept closer. This includes the number of teenagers who describe their mental health as 'poor', which has fallen from 18% in March to 14% in June, as well as the number of young people who thought their future would be 'a lot' or 'a little' worse, falling from 65% to 57% within the same timeframe.
The number of teenagers experiencing symptoms of depression, such as sleep, appetite, concentration and self confidence issues, has fallen too.
Despite such progress though, it seems other mental health issues remain common in young people.
In particular, loneliness is affecting just as many young people now as it was in March, with 64% of teenagers saying they 'sometimes' or 'often' have no-one to talk to, and 66% saying they 'sometimes' or 'often' feel alone.
Rates of anxiety have remained steady too: 43% said they are 'very' or 'fairly' worried about another lockdown; 45% are 'very' or 'fairly' worried about loved ones contracting Covid-19; 32% are 'very' or 'fairly' worried about someone they know dying; and 39% are 'very' or 'fairly' worried about their own health.
Dealing with the mental health 'hangover'
Catherine Seymour, head of research at the Mental Health Foundation, reflected positively on the improvements seen in optimism and general mental health, but urged that attention be paid to the mental health 'hangover' many teenagers seem to also be experiencing.
“We gathered our new results in late May and June, when young people were back in school, restrictions were lifting and vaccines being rolled out," commented Seymour. "We found that fewer teenagers said their mental health is ‘poor’, compared to when we last surveyed them in March, while pessimism about the future has become less common and fewer teenagers are reporting experiences associated with depression.
“While all this is encouraging, our results also show that loneliness is widespread, despite the unlocking, while huge numbers remain anxious about the pandemic. Loneliness is especially significant, because it suggests a lack of the nourishing relationships that help teenagers to cope with difficult times. Loneliness leaves them more vulnerable.”
To work toward a solution for those teenagers that remain affected by the pandemic, Professor Ann John of Swansea University is calling for better safeguards from the government:
"Looking forward, we really need to ensure that these inequalities are not widened and that the pandemic does not have knock-on, long-lasting effects on their futures," said John.
"To do this, we need policies and practical initiatives that span government departments and go beyond mental health services - although these are vital and chronically underfunded - to include accessible and accessed employment, training and education opportunities, financial safety nets for families and affordable housing."
Editor and contributor for Talking Mental Health