Third of young people left without mental health support during lockdown, survey finds

Nina Jacobs
Monday, July 13, 2020

Almost a third of young people lost access to mental health support after the country went into lockdown due to the coronavirus crisis, a survey has revealed.

Young people reported feeling isolated during lockdown. Picture: Adobe Stock
Young people reported feeling isolated during lockdown. Picture: Adobe Stock

The poll to evaluate the impact of the pandemic on young people’s mental health, carried out by charity YoungMinds, found 31 per cent of respondents said they were no longer able to access support despite still needing help from specialist services.

Some 1,000 young people had been accessing mental health support in the three months leading up to the crisis, including from the NHS, school and university counsellors, private providers, charities and helplines, YoungMinds said.

But hundreds were left without access to mental health support struggling to cope with issues such as social isolation, anxiety and fear about the future, it added.

The survey, which canvassed more than 2,000 young people aged 13 to 25 from 6 June to 5 July, is the second of its kind to be carried out by the charity in three months.

The first survey conducted during the first weekend of lockdown in March found 26 per cent of young people were not able to access any mental health support, indicating a rise in the number of young people left to cope alone at home.

Despite these young people being offered remote support, many said they felt they were unable to accept it because of concerns about privacy at home or a lack of access to technology, the charity said.

“Although the results [of the surveys] reveal similar themes, there is a clear message that some of the pressures young people face have intensified, and that more are struggling to get the help they need,” a report outlining the survey’s findings states.

“A smaller number have adjusted comparatively well to life under lockdown, but are now concerned about a return to the pressures of ‘normal life’,” it adds.

Further findings show most young people (80 per cent) said the pandemic had made their mental health worse, with 41 per cent reporting it was “much worse", a rise from 32 per cent in the previous survey.

Nearly 90 per cent of respondents said they had felt lonely or isolated during the lockdown period, even though 71 per cent had been able to stay in touch with friends.

Of those respondents that had not been accessing support before the crisis, 40 per cent said they had not sought help but were struggling with their mental health.

Only 11 per cent of young people felt their mental health had improved during the lockdown due to a forced break from the pressures of normal life.

Emma Thomas, the charity’s chief executive, said mental health professionals across all sectors had worked hard to adapt their services during the pandemic with a large number of young people receiving remote support.

“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 feels safe opening up online,” she said.

In response to a lifting of restrictions which will see young people return to education and work, the charity is calling for the government to commit to a recovery plan for children and young people’s mental health.

Key features would include ring-fenced funding for mental health in schools, colleges and universities to provide support for all young people.

Support for the NHS should also be given to help cope with a rise in demand for mental health support, enabling face-to-face sessions to resume.

The charity also wants a long-term cross government strategy to prioritise early intervention and address inequalities and pressures affecting young people’s mental health.

In a separate report, published today (13 July) by Barnardo’s, young people appeal directly to the government to tackle issues impacting their mental health.

The report Mental Health and Covid-19: In our Own Words reveals the majority of young people feel “ignored” by the government and key decision-makers when it comes to the response to the crisis.

Many said they were concerned about the level of information they had received and said a lack of information had contributed to their anxieties and fears around the virus. 

Just 17 per cent of young people asked said they were “satisfied” with information made available to them during lockdown.

Young people involved in designing and writing the report have called on the government to “involve children and young people in recovery planning”.

They have also called for summer activities focussing on resilience and funding for an overhaul of young people and families’ mental health services.

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