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Coronavirus having major impact on young people with mental health needs

Topic: Coronavirus and mental health

The first survey investigating the mental health impact of the Covid-19 coronavirus on young people with mental health needs has been published, revealing the pressure that the crisis has put on young people and support services.

Mental health charity YoungMinds carried out a survey [1] with 2,111 young people with a history of mental health needs [2] between Friday 20th March, the day on which schools closed to most students, and Wednesday 25th March, when further restrictive measures had been put in place. 

The results show that:

  • 83% of respondents agreed that the coronavirus pandemic had made their mental health worse. (32% said it had made their mental health “much worse”; 51% said it had made their mental health “a bit worse”)
  • Among the respondents who were accessing mental health support in the lead-up to the crisis (including from the NHS, school and university counsellors, private providers, charities and helplines), 74% said that they were still getting some level of mental health support, despite the immense challenges services are facing. 26% of young people who had been accessing support said that they were not currently able to access support. [3]
  • When asked to share how different activities affected their mental health, respondents reported that face-to-face calls with friends (72%), watching TV/films (72%), exercise (60%) and learning new skills (59%) were helpful for their mental health during this time.
  • 66% of respondents agreed that watching or reading the news was unhelpful for their mental health.

Among those who were no longer able to access support, some had experienced cancellations due to schools closing, not being able to attend peer support groups or because services that had been delivered face-to-face could not be provided online or by phone. Others had been offered remote support but reported concerns around privacy, access to technology or anxiety over talking on the phone or via video calls.

The charity also asked about the factors that impacted young people’s mental health and what they were most worried about. Common answers included concerns about their family’s health, school and university closures, loss of routines and coping mechanisms, isolation and a loss of social connections.

Emma Thomas, Chief Executive of YoungMinds, said:

“The coronavirus pandemic is a human tragedy that will continue to alter the lives of everyone in our society, and the results of this survey show just how big an impact this has had, and will continue to have, on the mental health of young people.

“Professionals who work in the young people’s mental health sector – whether for the NHS, privately, through schools, universities, youth organisations, charities or helplines – deserve enormous credit for continuing to provide support where they can. In an unprecedented and totally unexpected situation, they are going to remarkable lengths to reach young people, even though face-to-face contact is usually restricted and remote support is often challenging.

“But we need to find ways to help those young people who have lost their support – not least because, in many cases, they have also lost many of their coping mechanisms, including contact with friends or routines that help them to manage their conditions.

“We also know that many young people who previously might not have needed mental health support are likely to do so in future. As the impact of the pandemic and the restrictions on their lives continues to sink in, more young people are likely to struggle.

“This is a time when we must all pull together, and look out for those who are most at risk in our society.  The Government must fully recognise the growing mental health impact that COVID-19 will continue to have on children and young people, and ensure that addressing this is a key component of the ongoing response.”

The Government must fully recognise the growing mental health impact that COVID-19 will continue to have on children and young people
Chief Executive, YoungMinds
Emma Thomas

Jacob, 22, a YoungMinds Activist, said: “My panic attacks have come back for the first time in three years and I’ve found it difficult to sleep and eat well. My counsellor is continuing my weekly sessions online and it’s invaluable to have that time to talk through my anxieties and help me rationalise them. I’m talking to my friends and family about how I’m feeling which is helping and also limiting the amount of news I watch or read and baking or being creative instead.”

Naomi, 21, a YoungMinds activist, said: “I’ve been feeling really anxious about what’s going on at the moment. My normal coping strategies such as keeping a routine, getting out of the house and meeting people are now no longer possible and this is a big trigger for my existing anxiety which is getting worse. What would normally be quite a stressful time in my final year of university is harder at the moment. I’ve found some coping strategies are helping, such as making a journal to check in with my emotions, lots of self-care and setting a goal of a certain number of people to interact with each day.”

My panic attacks have come back for the first time in three years and I’ve found it difficult to sleep and eat well.
Activist, 22

YoungMinds is calling on the Government to recognise and respond to the impact the pandemic will have on the mental health of children and young people by:

  • Ensuring that the NHS, schools, charities and other services have the funding and resources they need to continue to deliver services, including digital, virtual, text-based and telephone therapies, to children, young people, parents and carers.
  • Enabling a coordinated effort across the NHS, schools and other providers to support those young people who are hardest to reach, who are unable to access remote support, or who do not find it helpful for their needs.
  • Prioritising clear public health messaging aimed at children, young people and families about what they can do to look after their mental health.

The charity will continue to support young people and parents during the coronavirus pandemic with information and advice through its digital channels, and via its dedicated Parents Helpline, which provides advice and support to parents who are concerned about their children’s mental health.

YoungMinds is the UK’s leading charity fighting for young people’s mental health. For more information please visit www.youngminds.org.uk

Follow us on Twitter @YoungMindsUK and Facebook

For free advice and support for parents, call our helpline on 0808 802 5544

For more information including interviews and case studies, contact the media team on 07817 979961 or 07814 277048.

[1] YoungMinds surveyed 2,111 young people aged 25 or under from Friday 20th March (the day that schools closed to most children) to Wednesday 25th March. The survey was hosted online and promoted on social media.

[2] Defined as young people up to the age of 25 who answered ‘yes’ to the question ‘Have you ever looked for support for your mental health?’

[3] 1,294 respondents said that they had received some form of mental health support (from the NHS, private providers, charities, peer support groups, youth organisations, school or university counsellors or helplines) in the previous three months, and continued to have mental health difficulties.