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Further research shows how young people’s mental health declined over pandemic

New research reviewing evidence on the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on children’s mental health and wellbeing has been published by the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER).

02/12/22

Further research shows how young people’s mental health declined over pandemic

New analysis into young people’s mental health and wellbeing sheds light onto the effects of the pandemic and subsequent lockdowns.

The research reviewed previously published UK data and undertook new analysis, looking for trends broken down by groups such as age, gender and disadvantage, finding some surprising results.

NFER says that the various data sources used a wide variety of methods, definitions and approaches. This meant drawing comparisons and conclusions was challenging, that findings were mixed – sometimes conflicting - and should therefore be treated in context and with caution.

The analysis showed that while secondary-aged girls were more likely than secondary-aged boys to have experienced a decline in their mental health during the pandemic; secondary-aged boys’ mental health actually showed some signs of improvement during the same period.

Researchers said that the evidence suggests that the restrictions in early 2021 may have had a more negative impact on mental health and wellbeing than those at the start of the pandemic (March-June 2020). Perhaps unexpectedly, for some young people, particularly those with pre-existing poorer mental health, the first lockdown may have been associated with some improvement in their mental health.

It also found that young primary-aged boys showed a greater decline in their mental health during the pandemic than young primary-aged girls, and that the mental health of primary-aged girls fluctuated more than that of boys.

Perhaps most surprisingly, the data showed that disadvantaged children and young people were not more negatively impacted during the pandemic than their non-disadvantaged peers, however researchers said it is “clear that disadvantage is associated with lower overall wellbeing and mental health.”

Children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) had lower wellbeing and mental health before the pandemic and this persisted through the pandemic.

Liz Twist, Head of Assessment Research and Product Development at NFER, and one of the authors of the study said the research highlighted the disparity in the impact on young people.

“A child’s ability to learn and thrive will be adversely affected by poor mental health and so it is vital that schools have access to specialist support for children and young people.

“Early intervention is vital to reduce the risk of pupils suffering from significant difficulties later in life.”

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