A quarter of locked-down children may have poor mental health

A recent study revealed that a quarter of children and young people who have lived through Covid lockdowns are likely to have poor mental health. We look into this further and share free and useful resources

A recent NHS Digital report follows insights from 2017 and looks at how the pandemic has affected the mental health of seven to 24-year-olds, considering household circumstances, educational experiences and their communities.

The worrying findings reveal that one in four 17-19-year-olds have a ‘probable’ mental health problem. The survey classifies how likely it would be that the child had a diagnosable condition (without seeing a professional). The results for the younger population (seven to 16) aren’t much better, with 18% saying they’d be likely to have poor mental health. To put this into context, that’s around five children in every classroom.

Prior to the pandemic, one in 10 people aged 17-19 were thought to have a mental health problem, so why has the pandemic hit young people so hard?

Particularly for those transitioning into their early adult years, the numerous lockdowns brought on by the pandemic have had a knock-on effect. Not only have the school closures resulted in many children being set back in their education, but it’s also impacted their social lives and mental wellbeing as people were forced apart, leading to isolation and feelings of loneliness.

Perhaps more worryingly, the figures also suggest that almost 20% of primary school-aged boys (seven to 10) were classed as having a probable mental health problem, compared to 10.5% of girls the same age. When asked what mental health problems these children were likely to have, the results indicated an increase in anxiety, depression, and behavioural challenges such as ADHD.

With the rising use of technology during Covid, more and more people have taken to social media. NHS Digital found that, of the social media users surveyed, young women were almost twice as likely to report being a victim of bullying than men. For social media users thought to have a mental health problem, the number who felt they had been bullied increased to more than one in four.

How can we help children transition to a post-pandemic world?

Whilst the pandemic has brought families closer together, children of all ages have missed out on other vital parts of their lives, whether that’s interacting with their peers in the classroom or navigating the start of adulthood at university.

Getting support

For many, the isolation experienced during lockdowns may make being back in the school environment harder to adjust to. Whilst some children might be confident in the playground, others may need a little longer to get back in the swing of things. Social and separation anxiety are likely to take effect, so it’s important that we’re on hand to offer our children as much support as possible.

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If you’re worried about your child in school, it’s important to have a conversation about what can be done to support them. Reach out to the school’s point of contact, usually the pastoral lead, school nurse, safeguarding officer, SENCO, or class teacher.

Start a conversation

It’s important that children and young people feel safe in the knowledge that they can express how they’re feeling. Patient.info recommends spending more time outdoors to allow kids to release their energy, encouraging them to be honest about their feelings, getting plenty of exercise, nutrition, and sleep, and learning through play. Taking the pressure off children is an important step in helping them transition into a post-Covid world.

If you’re finding it hard to talk with your child, you could consider speaking to a GP or a private therapist. Talking to a person with no strings attached in a confidential, safe, and supported environment can be really beneficial.

For more information on how to talk to kids about mental health, read our article.

Whilst it’s fair to say we’ll never go back to what was considered as ‘normal’ pre-pandemic, we can learn to thrive in this post-pandemic world and the children of the future will be shaped by the experiences they have lived through.

If you or your child is living with a mental health problem after Covid, or you’d just like to talk, you can contact the Samaritans 24/7, every day of the year, on 116 123, or email [email protected]. To find support for children and young people, visit Young Minds.

For more information on how counselling can help children and young people, visit the Counselling Directory.

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