COVID-19’s daily increasing cases and deaths have led to worldwide lockdown, quarantine, and some restrictions. The lockdown has significantly impacted the lives of children and young people (CYP).
Several studies have offered insight into the impact the lockdown has had on children and young people’s mental health and wellbeing. Most of them reported negative mental health consequences.
A new study by the University of Cambridge and Oxford reported that these adverse effects had not been uniformly reported. The study suggests that one in three young people say their mental health and wellbeing improved during COVID-19 lockdown measures- with potential contributing factors including feeling less lonely, avoiding bullying, and getting more sleep and exercise.
Emma Soneson, a Ph.D. student and Gates Scholar at the Department of Psychiatry, University of Cambridge, said: “The common narrative that the pandemic has had overwhelmingly negative effects on the lives of children and young people might not tell the full story. It seems as though a sizeable number of children and young people may have experienced what they felt was improved wellbeing during the first national lockdown of 2020.”
“After hearing from patients in our clinical practice and informally from several parents and young people that they thought the lockdown was beneficial for their or their child’s mental health, we decided to look at this trend.”
Scientists analyzed data from the 2020 OxWell Student Survey, a self-report, cross-sectional survey of English CYP. A total of 16,940 children and young people primarily aged 8–18 years reported on the change in mental wellbeing during the lockdown. All students were characterized in terms of school, home, relational, and lifestyle factors and feelings about returning to school.
One in three students (33%) thought their mental wellbeing improved during the first lockdown. An almost identical number of students fell into each of the three categories: their mental wellbeing had improved; there had been no change, or they had experienced a deterioration to their wellbeing.
Study authors noted, “The highest proportions of students who reported improved mental wellbeing were among those who were in school every day (39%) and most days (35%), while the highest proportion of students who reported worse wellbeing were those who attended just once or twice (39%).”
“Students who felt they had had better wellbeing during lockdown were more likely than their peers to report positive lockdown experiences of school, home, relationships, and lifestyle. For example, compared with their peers, a greater percentage of students reporting better wellbeing also reported decreases in bullying, improved relationships with friends and family, less loneliness, better management of schoolwork, more sleep, and more exercise during lockdown compared with before.”
Professor Peter Jones, also from the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Cambridge, said: “What we’ve seen is a complex mix of factors that affect whether a child’s mental health and wellbeing was affected by the lockdown. These range from their mental health before the pandemic through to their relationships with their families and peers, and their attitudes towards school.”
Many young people who had been bullied reported that the bullying had reduced.
53% of students who reported improved mental wellbeing in our sample reported feeling less left out and lonely and having better relationships with friends and family.
Authors noted, “This study adds to a growing evidence base that suggests that the impact of lockdown is dependent on several factors (e.g., gender, pre-pandemic mental health, social relationships, school connectedness, the experience of online learning, family composition, and family financial situation and that there are many CYP who report experiencing better mental health and wellbeing during this time.”
Professor Mina Fazel from the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Oxford said: “While the pandemic has undoubtedly had negative consequences for many, it is important to keep in mind that this is not the case for all children and young people. We are interested in how we can learn from this group and determine if some of the changes can be sustained to promote better mental health and wellbeing moving forward.”
- Soneson, E et al. Happier During Lockdown: A descriptive analysis of self-reported wellbeing in 17,000 UK school students during Covid-19 lockdown. European Child and Adolescent Psychiatry; 17 Feb 2022; DOI: 10.1007/s00787-021-01934-z