This project aims to understand the impacts of COVID-19 and the resultant lockdown on adolescent mental health and wellbeing, social connections, and social media activity.
April 2020 - August 2020
Young People’s Mental Health during the COVID-19 Pandemic, produced by NIHR School for Public Health Research Public Mental Health Programme, explores the impact of COVID-19 on adolescent mental health and wellbeing, social connections and social media activity.
The report shows findings from a survey of over 1,000 Year 9 students from 17 schools across the south west of England.
Key concerns for students
Survey results showed that 90% of female and 88% of male students thought COVID-19 was a serious issue. Students taking part in the survey were most worried about friends and family; the likelihood of them catching COVID-19 and the impact of lockdown on their mental health. The third highest worry for females was the impact of missing school, whereas males were concerned over the long-term impacts on their job prospects and the economy. Overall the survey found female students to be more worried about COVID-19 than male students.
Young people feel more connected to school
The lockdown led to students being more positive towards school. This may have been due to teaching staff finding new ways to create positive connections and strengthen communication with students during lockdown.
During lockdown students said they enjoyed going to school more so than before the pandemic. Students felt more respected by teachers and reported having more opportunities to speak to their teachers. Male students reported teachers were able to understand them more during the pandemic. Female students felt they were treated more equally by teachers during the pandemic compared to before the pandemic.
Reduction in anxiety
Lockdown resulted in lower levels of anxiety. Prior to the pandemic 54% of female and 26% of male students who took part in the survey were at risk of anxiety. Almost 10% fewer students in each group were at risk of anxiety during lockdown. Students who were at risk of anxiety prior to the pandemic in particular saw a decrease in anxiety scores. Another distinct group who saw a decrease in anxiety were those who felt less connected to school prior to the pandemic.
Overall within the sample, wellbeing improved during lockdown but levels of depression stayed the same.
No change to vulnerable groups
The report highlights the existing inequalities between vulnerable and non-vulnerable groups as those students who identified as LGBTQ+ or having a health problem or disability saw little change in their anxiety, depression and wellbeing during lockdown. This suggests factors influencing their mental health and wellbeing continued to be present outside of the school environment.
Students receiving free school meals reported higher levels of depression pre-pandemic. This group showed similar results to non-vulnerable groups during lockdown as they reported a reduction in anxiety and an increase in wellbeing. This group also saw a reduction in depression during lockdown.
Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) students did not report poorer mental health or wellbeing compared to white students prior to or during the pandemic. They also did not report higher levels of worry during lockdown. BAME students saw a reduction in their anxiety levels during lockdown and no change in depression levels in line with the overall changes seen. However BAME students did not see any improvement in wellbeing.
What are the implications of the survey?
The overall reduction in anxiety and the increase in student wellbeing during lockdown may be due to the removal of stress factors often found in school environments such as pressure of academic work and challenging peer relationships. As schools fully re-open and all students return, it is important to consider ways to prevent a rise in anxiety to reported levels prior to the pandemic.
There may need to be a focus on supporting students who felt less connected to school and those who had high anxiety prior to lockdown. Vulnerable groups including LGBTQ+ or disabled students who saw little change in anxiety, depression and wellbeing during lockdown are also likely to require more support when they return to school.