A new policy briefing by a team of researchers at King’s College London and Oxford University has revealed the profound impact of the Covid-19 pandemic of the mental health of children and young people, as well as setting out various steps which can be taken to address this growing crisis. 

The briefing suggests that challenges around social isolation, academic pressures, adjusting to online learning and coping with reopening of schools are but a few of the many factors which have led to the number of children’s NHS mental health referrals doubling since the beginning of the pandemic, as well as highlighting the ‘severe’ disruption to mental health services which has left many without access to proper support. 

In order to address these problems, the research team has outlined 14 steps which they say should be implemented by schools, mental health services and within the wider policy and practice environment. These include: equipping school staff to normalise conversations about mental health to identify who needs help, maintaining or increasing financial support of families facing hardship caused or exacerbated by the pandemic, strengthening the provision of early interventions and providing Covid-19-related mental health resources for those who have experience trauma and loss. 

The briefing also suggests that reforming the benefit and universal credit systems, as well as exploring the feasibility of implementing a guaranteed income scheme, would also be beneficial; analysis of data from the Millennium Cohort Study in 2012 found that children in the lowest income quintile are 4.5 times more likely to experience severe mental health problems than those in the highest, with the pandemic only exacerbating this growing disparity. 

Of the proposals, Professor Cathy Creswell, Director, UKRI Emerging Minds Network and Professor of Developmental Clinical Psychology, University of Oxford said: “In seeking to limit the impacts of the pandemic on young people and provide much needed supports, we need a multi-pronged approach that incorporates actions in each of these settings. This is so that we can foster the environments in which young people can thrive – in communities, in schools, and at home – and provide the mental health care that an increasing number of young people need.” 

The proposals, which are set out in a new policy briefing jointly produced by the ESRC Centre for Society and Mental Health, Emerging Minds, and The Policy Institute, were developed out of a policy lab held in early 2021 which included participants from policy, academia, wider society and schools, as well as young people with lived experience of mental health issues.  

Dr Helen Fisher, Reader in Developmental Psychopathology at ESRC Centre for Society and Mental Health, King’s College London said: “It is imperative that we understand, quickly, the impacts of the pandemic and related social restrictions and school closures on the mental health of young people, particularly young people in marginalised and vulnerable groups. This is so we can develop and implement, again quickly, measures to mitigate these impacts, to ensure – as we emerge from the pandemic – that all young people are enabled to flourish.” 

Image credit: CC BY-NC-ND 2.5


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