Understanding the mental health issues of children and young people post-pandemic: returning to the same school, living in a different world

mental health of children and young people
Research and literature regarding the mental health and wellbeing of children and young people has become more frequent and widespread over recent years, as data and trends show an increasingly concerning picture. In the year prior to the global pandemic, referrals to children’s mental health services rose by 35% however there was only a 4% increase in the number of children who gained access to treatment. 

In July 2020, the NHS noted that clinically significant mental health conditions amongst children had risen by 50% compared to three years earlier. This equates to 1 in 6 children with a probable mental health condition. We do not yet know the full impact of the current global pandemic, however, there has already been an upsurge in referrals to NHS services during Autumn 2020.

Emerging evidence on COVID-19’s impact on children and young people's mental health

But why has there been this increase? 

  • Has there been an increase in the number of children and young people receiving a formal diagnosis?
  • In 2014, the term ‘mental health’ was introduced in the Special Educational Need and Disabilities (SEND) Code of Practice in 2014. This increased the focus on tackling issues which have an impact on the mental health of children and young people. Has this had an impact?
  • Is there more awareness, therefore more recognition and thus a higher number of referrals?
  • Social media and exam pressures have been cited as factors contributing to the poor mental health of children and young people. Is this true?

These – and so many more reasons have been cited – all of which deserve our careful and critical consideration.  Presently, much is being researched globally to try to understand the extent of mental health issues in our society and this will – in part – help to begin to ascertain why there has been this increase.  

The UK Government are engaged in research that is scrutinising the impact – in real time – of COVID-19 in respect of mental health and wellbeing.  To date, it has been suggested that some children and young people appear to have experienced greater negative impacts on their mental health and wellbeing during the pandemic and that between September 2020 up until January 2021 when the second period of predominantly online learning was occurring, there was further decline in wellbeing amongst our children and young people.  

The positives about home schooling during lockdown
It should also be acknowledged that for some children and young people, the ‘lockdown’ and the requirement to stay at home to learn has been a respite from the everyday pressures of school (for example, the academic pressure, the social relationships, the concerns about one’s appearance etc) and resulted in – for some young people – the opportunity to flourish.  For some, the need to stay at home has provided some respite from the physical reality of bullying. Additionally, there is evidence emerging (World Economic Forum, 2021) that learning online allows students to learn at their own pace and revisit learning where needed. Also, for some the home environment has proved less distracting than school and their engagement has increased.

What is important to remember, is that whatever the research and literature regarding the mental health and wellbeing of children and young people says, we need to view it with a critical eye and consider the source of the data.

These times are unprecedented and as a result have highlighted the need to expand the focus on strengthening resources, knowledge, and skills, through engagement with schools and community support groups to support our children and young people as they navigate these challenging times and support them as they return to this very different world to the one, we started with such anticipation in January 2020.

Early intervention is essential and along with it, adequate funding to support this
 At Minds Ahead our work is centred on improving the mental health of the educational community. This focus allows us to adopt a robust approach to offering practical solutions to supporting the mental health needs of each school community. Our mission is to develop an education workforce with the knowledge and skills to effectively support the mental health of all within the school community – pupils, staff, families, and school leaders.
We have worked with partners to research, design and deliver innovate Masters programmes that are the first of their kind. Join us in supporting the mental health of your setting by finding out more about these programmes