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Mental health much worse for many young people with mental health needs

Young people with mental health needs are under increasing pressure and struggling to get the right support as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

Young people with mental health needs are under increasing pressure and struggling to get the right support as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, according to a new report by YoungMinds.

The report reflects the results of a survey with 2,036 young people aged 13-25 with a history of mental health problems [1], carried out between 6th June and 5th July [2]. It follows on from a similar survey carried out in March, at the start of the lockdown period [3]. 

The results reveal that:

  • 80% of respondents agreed that the coronavirus pandemic had made their mental health worse. 41% said it had made their mental health “much worse”, up from 32% in the previous survey in March. This was often related to increased feelings of anxiety, isolation, a loss of coping mechanisms or a loss of motivation.
  • 87% of respondents agreed that they had felt lonely or isolated during the lockdown period, even though 71% had been able to stay in touch with friends. 
  • Among more than 1,000 respondents who were accessing mental health support in the three months leading up the crisis (including from the NHS, school and university counsellors, private providers, charities and helplines), 31% said they were no longer able to access support but still needed it. This is an increase from 26% in the previous survey. Many of those respondents had been offered remote support, but were unable to accept it because of concerns about privacy at home or a lack of access to technology.[4]
  • Of those who had not been accessing support immediately before the crisis, 40% said that they had not looked for support but were struggling with their mental health.  Reasons for not looking for support included not wanting to ‘burden’ services during this time, anxiety about video or phone calls, not having privacy at home, or feeling shame at needing help.
  • 11% of respondents said that their mental health had improved during the crisis, an increase from 6% in the previous survey. This was often because they felt it was beneficial to be away from the pressures of their normal life (e.g. bullying or academic pressure at school)

Among those who were no longer able to access support, many had been concerned about the loss of face-to-face support and about receiving support remotely because of a lack of privacy at home. Others had experienced the cancellation of services such as counselling at school or local support groups, or a breakdown in communication as lockdown started. 

The charity also asked about the factors that impacted young people’s mental health as a result of the pandemic and the lockdown. Many respondents talked about feeling isolated or lonely, lacking motivation and purpose and anxiety over the virus itself or the impact of it on their lives.  Friends were seen as the most helpful form of support for young people, when it was possible to stay in touch with them.


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“In the last few months, young people with mental health problems have struggled to cope with social isolation, anxiety and fears about their future. Some have been through bereavement or other traumatic experiences, while groups who were already disadvantaged are now likely to become more so. For young people who have adjusted comparatively well during lockdown, the return to ‘normal’ life may bring its own pressures.

“Mental health professionals across all sectors have worked extremely hard to adapt their services, and a large number of young people who were receiving support face-to-face are still successfully receiving it through phone or video calls. But as our survey reveals, this is not the right approach for everyone. Many young people lack access to technology, are concerned about privacy or simply do not feel safe opening up online.

“It is important to recognise the massive scale of the challenge ahead. As restrictions lift we cannot simply return to business as usual. Schools, universities and workplaces must adapt to a likely surge in mental health needs by looking at the whole culture of how they operate, as well as ensuring that excellent support is available for those who require it.

“The Government must ensure that, in what will be a difficult economic climate, there is significant new funding available to prevent the pandemic from having lasting consequences on mental health. The wellbeing of children and young people must be at the heart of all policy-making, so that decisions across Government have a positive impact.”
Emma Thomas, Chief Executive of YoungMinds

YoungMinds is calling for the Government to commit to a recovery plan for children and young people’s mental health. This should include: 

Ring-fenced funding for mental health in schools, colleges and universities to enable them to provide mental health support to all young people who need it.

A transition period of at least one academic term for schools, colleges and universities in which allowances are made for the effects of trauma or emotional distress; this means reviewing behaviour policies, attendance policies and accountability measures, including suspending the reintroduction of fines related to attendance.

Support for the NHS to cope with a rise in demand for mental health support, enabling face-to-face support to resume widely where possible, and committing to accelerating the mental health ambitions of the NHS Long-Term Plan.

A wellbeing campaign that is co-produced with, and targeted towards, children and young people, to help them support themselves and find effective help when they need it.

A long-term cross government strategy on young people’s mental health that prioritises early intervention in our communities, with clear funding in place, working alongside the voluntary sector to address the inequalities and pressures that affect young people’s mental health.

“I alternate between anxiety so bad I shake and cry and can't concentrate on anything and then depression so bad that I can't get out of bed. I'm also so scared of being infected (and then infecting others) that I haven't left my house in nearly 100 days.”

“I can see glimmers of normality but it's a shadow of what it was and makes things seem stranger and more difficult than ever.”

“My mental health has deteriorated so much that I'm often not able to do my now online therapy session and I haven't had contact with my psychiatrist since lockdown began.”

“My level of care was suddenly cut off and I was told counselling services were further delayed because of lockdown. I did not feel able to go to A&E or anything because of the virus.”

“Unfortunately there is no way for me to do my therapy online as there is no place in my home I can talk about my problems without people hearing. This has meant I've had to go without therapy whilst my school offered no choice to go online.”

The report is available to download here: www.youngminds.org.uk/coronavirus-report 

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

The charity previously published results from a survey with young people about the mental health impact of COVID-19

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

[1] 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?’

[2] YoungMinds surveyed 2,036 young people aged between 13 and 25 from Friday 5th June and Monday 6th July. The survey was hosted on surveygizmo.eu and promoted on social media.

[3] YoungMinds conducted a similar survey at the start of lockdown with 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 on surveygizmo.eu and promoted on social media.

[4] 1,081 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 first three months of the year.