Psychiatrists at the University of Cambridge have drawn attention to the impact of lockdown on young people. Writing in the British Medical Journal, they said that action is needed “to ensure that this generation is not disproportionately disadvantaged by Covid”.
Studies carried out during the pandemic suggest that although some families are coping well, others are facing financial adversity, struggling to home school, and risk experiencing vicious cycles of increasing distress. Probable mental health conditions increased from 10.8% in 2017 to 16% in July 2020 across all age, sex, and ethnic groups according to England’s Mental Health of Children and Young People Survey (MHCYP).
A probability based sample of 2,673 parents recruited through social media reported deteriorating mental health and increased behavioural problems among children aged four to 11 years between March and May 2020 (during lockdown) but reduced emotional symptoms among 11-16 year olds. The more socioeconomically deprived respondents had consistently worse mental health in both surveys – a stark warning given that economic recession is expected to increase the numbers of families under financial strain.
The authors report that, while numbers are too small to be definite about the relationship between the first English lockdown and increased suicides among young people, they are more clear regarding a link to eating disorders.
The national referral statistics for eating disorders in England show a doubling in the number of urgent referrals during 2020 and a smaller increase in non-urgent referrals. Known triggers for self-harm and poor mental health are aggravated by pandemic restrictions, including separation from friends, arguments with parents, unresolvable arguments on social media, strained finances, academic stress, and feelings of isolation. School closures are particularly difficult for families facing other adversities.
The evolving consequences of the pandemic are set against longstanding concerns about deteriorating mental health among children and young people, and the inadequacy of service provision. Although children are at lowest risk of death from COVID-19, concerning signals remain about the pandemic’s effects on their mental health, which are unevenly experienced across different age groups and socioeconomic circumstances.
The reopening of schools may help to alleviate the current sufferings of the nation’s young, provided false positives don’t keep perfectly healthy children stuck in their rooms.
Worth reading in full.