Expert comment

Mental health and wellbeing of children and young people during Covid-19.

Expert comment

Mental health and wellbeing of children and young people during Covid-19.

Academics from across the University discuss the impact Covid-19 has had upon children and young people from disadvantaged or marginalised communities.

Children and young people (CYP) during the Covid-19 pandemic have experienced greater risks and impacts in terms of their mental health and wellbeing. Although some CYP have coped well during the pandemic, coronavirus related interventions such as lockdown measures, social distancing, school closures and stay at home guidance have had a negative impact on mental health and wellbeing on increasing numbers of CYP.

As part of the COVID-19: mental health and wellbeing surveillance report, Public Health England (PHE) publishes emerging findings from UK studies about the mental health and wellbeing of CYP in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic. The updated information on 19 May 2021 states that mental health and wellbeing of CYP from certain population groups and with certain characteristics are disproportionately affected by Covid-19 and have experienced greater negative impacts on their mental health and wellbeing. These groups include CYP with pre-existing mental health needs, disadvantaged CYP, such as looked after children or those who are disadvantaged financially, CYP with special education needs and disability (SEND), CYP from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic backgrounds, females aged 16 to 24 and those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) have experienced an increase in mental health symptoms and psychological distress. Anxiety and stress, loneliness, attention deficit and behavioural and emotional challenges and self-harm or suicidality are some of the mental health stressors routinely experienced by these groups of CYP.

Although CYP experienced that their home relationships and communication with family members improved during the Covid-19, as they spent more time with those they live with, they found it hard to reconnect with their friends when returning to school and were worried and anxious about catching up with their schoolwork and uncertainty about exam plans. Access to counselling services at schools were difficult due to long waiting lists, lack of regular appointments and the need to self-isolate if they developed Covid-19 symptoms or were in contact with others with symptoms.

It is reported that the impact of Covid-19 on the mental health and wellbeing of CYP people from marginalised and disadvantaged communities have been more severe. However, there has been very limited representative evidence on the experiences and mental health of CYP from those disadvantaged or marginalised groups, as described above.

Emerging evidence shows that a number of Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) have not been able to innovate in response to the pandemic and provide new online support for CYP. A recent survey of clinical commissioning groups also found that over half of CAMHS have directed CYP to online support materials instead of utilising technologies for continued existing interventions like talking therapies. Reasons behind slow responses to online innovations are cited as cost implications, lack of technological knowledge and lack of evidence base around their effectiveness. This situation is not reflective of all CAMHS, but whether or not CYP are able to access adequate and effective services is dependent on where they live and their local service’s capabilities.

Survey research with CAMHS clinicians has shown that the pandemic and the subsequent rapid need for changes in working practices has had a negative impact on staff wellbeing and perceptions around their capabilities. Clinicians who were surveyed experienced reduced levels of mental wellbeing, some to the extent of having a heightened risk of depression. Further research in this area is needed alongside research that considers the experiences and views of CYP and their carers.

In this context, a research internship project looking at the mental wellbeing of CYP during the Covid-19 pandemic has commenced in Canterbury Christ Church University. Our research internship, a second year psychology student, Chantelle Willows, intends to explore and understand what is known from the existing literature about the impact of Covid-19 on mental health and wellbeing of CYP from marginalised and/or disadvantaged communities, access to and the effectiveness of mental health services to support them and their carers. 

The project has commenced with a review of existing literature and this will be followed by a stakeholder consultation with professionals at CAMHS clinics in East Kent. This project will act as the groundwork for a collaborative funding application for coproduced research to develop an intervention for improvement of care at CAMHS.

Learn more about the project and how it is helping Chantelle to develop her research skills by watching the videos below.

Dr Rajeeb Sah and Dr Toni Wright, Faculty of Medicine, Health and Social Care, Clare Keys, Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Education, Dr Gowri Nanayakkara and Dr Chisa Onyejekwe, Faculty of Science, Engineering and Social Sciences.