In March of this year the Mental Health Foundation (MHF) released the first phase of a longitudinal study to evaluate how the pandemic has impacted the mental health of the nation, this week they have released more findings, specifically focused on the wellbeing of young people.
Content warning: This article mentions suicide.
A particular area of concern involved in the MHF report back in March was the higher rates of loneliness, hopelessness, depression and suicidal feelings in younger people, especially students. That report stated that thoughts of suicide had increased from 8% to 13% between April 2020 and February 2021 within this younger age bracket.
What do the findings from this newest phase of the study say?
New research from the MHF and Swansea University has found that with the easing of lockdown, the mental health of young people has improved. However, anxiety and loneliness has been long lasting.
These findings come from another phase of the initial study, one of the few studies nationally that has focused on younger people, specifically teenagers about their experiences of the pandemic. 2,349 British teenagers aged 13-19 were surveyed by the MHF and YouGov between May and June this year.
Pessimism about prospects was a particular worry for young people. A study by Institute for Fiscal Studies indicated this could impact young people’s chances of improving their financial situation.
In the most recent results, the MHF have found that pessimism has fallen from 65% of participants reporting the belief that their futures would be ‘a lot’ or ‘a little’ worse, to 57% of those asked in the latest survey.
Catherine Seymour, Head of Research at the MHF has said, “We’re seeing hopeful signs of young people’s resilience in our latest data but also evidence that many teenagers have a mental health ‘hangover’ from the pandemic… We found that fewer teenagers said their mental health is ‘poor’, compared to when we last surveyed them in March, while pessimism about the future has become less common and fewer teenagers are reporting experiences associated with depression.”
- See also: 'The interconnected crisis of mental health and employability during the pandemic'
- See also: 'Royal College of Psychiatry warns children are “bearing the brunt” of the pandemic'
- See also: 'The Mental Health Foundation: mental health in the year of the pandemic'
Although these improvements are very encouraging, loneliness unfortunately seems to have stayed at a constant for teens throughout the pandemic. This could suggest that long periods of school closures and social events being hindered by the pandemic has meant many young people’s interpersonal relationships and confidence in social scenarios has been affected in the long-term.
Another indicator that young teens are still struggling are rates of anxiety. 43% of those surveyed reported being worried about another lockdown, whilst almost 40% said they were concerned that the pandemic would affect their mental health.
On the persistent rates of anxiety, Professor Ann John of Swansea University has said, “big influences on teenagers’ mental health are living in economic adversity and having pre-existing mental and physical health conditions and disabilities. And, specifically, that time in late teens of rapid social and emotional changes and life transitions. It is teenagers in these groups who appear to be less likely to bounce back from the effects of the pandemic.”
The solution to this, Ann John says is swift, government policy and “practical initiatives” such as increased mental health services, employment training, education opportunities, financial support and more affordable housing.
Upon reflecting on this new research, MQ Mental Health Research’s Chief Executive Lea Milligan echoed these sentiments saying, “The improvements to wellbeing that young people are self-reporting through this survey are a welcome first step to recovery. If we are to truly ensure the future health of the COVID generation, then much more needs to be done.”
If the issues discussed in this article relate to you or someone you know, you can seek help support and guidance at Samaritans, or call their helpline 24/7 at 116 123.