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How did the pandemic affect young people’s mental health?

A new comprehensive review study led by the University of Exeter and the University of Cambridge has evaluated the research on the mental health of children and young people using evidence spanning before and during the Covid-19 pandemic. The experts found that the pandemic a significant impact on this demographic’s mental health, which could result in an increased demand for support services. 

The researchers analyzed 51 studies that looked at how the pandemic affected the mental health of children and young people across a variety of domains. These studies included information on baseline mental health, collected before the beginning of the pandemic, rather than relying on retrospective perceptions of change. However, the demand for fast-paced research that surged during the pandemic meant that the standard of these studies was variable, with only four of them considered to be high quality science.

Although the evidence showed a certain degree of deterioration for several aspects of mental health, overall, the findings were mixed, suggesting that the effects are not universal and depend on the circumstances and context of children, young adults, and families. However, the overall pattern that the researchers identified is clear enough to point to a probable future rise in demand for mental health support.

“The pandemic affected the lives of children and young people worldwide, and we’ve heard a lot of talk around the impact on mental health. Our review of the research in the field provides further evidence that already-stretched services are likely to see an increase in demand, but that perhaps things are not as bad for everyone as some headlines make them appear,” explained study lead author Tamsin Newlove-Delgado, an expert in children’s mental health at Exeter. 

“However, even a small average change in mental health symptoms for each child can mean that, on a societal level, a large number of children tip over from managing OK to needing some professional support. Children and young people must be prioritized in pandemic recovery, and explicitly considered in planning for any future pandemic response.”

“Studying the whole population of children and young people means that our research may not pick up on differences between groups that may have fared better or worse during the pandemic,” added study co-author Tamsin Ford, a psychiatrist at Cambridge. 

“For example, other research has found that some children and young people reported sleeping and eating better during lockdowns, or found it easier to access remote schooling as they could work at their own pace. Others struggled with lack of structure or lack of access to remote schooling or peers.”

Further research is needed to clarify the impact of the pandemic on young people’s mental health and to devise efficient therapeutic pathways to help those who currently struggle with psychological distress.

The study is published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry

By Andrei Ionescu, Staff Writer

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