Concerns over ‘huge decline’ in young people’s mental health during lockdown

The Covid-19 pandemic has sparked a decline in young people’s mental health almost three times the national average, charities have warned.

Leigh Middleton: We risk losing sight of the immediate needs of young people. Picture: NYA
Leigh Middleton: We risk losing sight of the immediate needs of young people. Picture: NYA

A new report from the National Youth Association (NYA) and wellbeing charity Brook, Inside Out, Young People’s Health and Wellbeing: A Response to Covid-19, states that 72 per cent of young people asked reported a decline in their mental health during lockdown.

Some 77 per cent said they had experienced loneliness and 50 per cent said family problems had increased.

The report states that despite being at a lower risk of infection from coronavirus, “the crisis has hit vulnerable young people the hardest”.

It cites figures from the NYA’s previous Out of Sight report which found that more than one million young people had lost contact with youth services. 

Many of these young people are “unknown to formal services and not accessing health services”, it warns.

The report also said a lack of clear guidance aimed at young people and wraparound services, including sexual and mental health services could “lead to risky behaviour, poor sexual health, abuse, trauma, bereavement, addiction and anxiety” as lockdown restrictions ease.

Leigh Middleton, chief executive of the NYA, warned that the government’s “full focus” on schools reopening in September risks “losing sight of the immediate needs and long term impact on young people’s health, which in turn is a key determinant of their education, employment and life chances.”

Helen Marshall, chief executive of Brook, added: “The closure of schools, colleges and youth services has further isolated young people at a period in their lives that is crucial for their emotional and physical development.”

In response to the findings of the report, NYA and Brook have launched a joint 10-point plan for young people’s health in response to Covid-19, and have called for greater investment in early intervention, therapeutic and open-access services for young people.

It includes:

  • Take an age-sensitive response to the needs and concerns of children and young people

  • Signpost young people to regular, trust-worthy and clear sources of news and information

  • Reach out to young people self-reporting or known to have mental health needs

  • Celebrate where young people are coping to manage stress and boredom

  • Support young people to help out and be involved in their local community efforts

  • Promote group activities and opportunities for children and young people to spend time outside

  • Capture better data on young people who are falling through the gaps, not known to formal services, and make this available at a local level

  • Develop the youth work curriculum for practitioners to complement the new statutory requirements for the teaching of relationships and health education

  • Promote the Make Every Contact Count approach to ensure that where young people are in contact with professionals all their health and safeguarding needs are assessed, supported by referrals and signposting to appropriate services

  • Invest in early intervention and therapeutic services1 and open-access youth services to support young people’s positive health and wellbeing, happy and confident in their future

The charities have also joined forces with Anne Longfield, children’s commissioner for England, to call for 

  • Clear and ongoing public health messages specific to young people

  • Keeping services for young people open with ready access where it is safe to do so

  • Mobilising youth workers as critical workers alongside health and education professionals

Middleton added: “Through youth work, support can be offered to young people as part of a joined-up approach with schools and colleges and health specialists. It is vital they come together seamlessly to make sure young people have the help they need to recover, make sound choices and get ahead in life.”

Longfield said: “Children and young people need to be at the heart of coronavirus planning as they prepare to return to school in September and over coming months. Their perspectives must be better reflected in scientific and public health advice. Helping young people adapt to living safely with the virus will be essential to their long term prospects and health and wellbeing.”

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