Young people have faced a number of mental health challenges during the lockdown but overall they have reported relatively stable levels of happiness, according to the Government’s second State of the Nation report.
Published on Saturday to mark World Mental Health Day, State of the nation 2020: children and young people’s wellbeing collates publicly available data on children and young people’s wellbeing, and experiences associated with it, collected during the first months of the pandemic.
It revealed that young people aged five to 24 generally responded with resilience to changes in their lives between March and September 2020. However, it did identify some challenges for this age group including isolation from friends, learning from home, and worries that family or friends might get sick.
In their response to the publication of the report, the charity The Children’s Society warned that it is ‘too soon to know’ what kind of impact the pandemic will have on children and young people.
The State of the Nation report – as it notes in its executive summary – has also been published against a background of relatively low levels of wellbeing for children in the UK when compared with other countries, with ‘decreasing trends over time’.
‘There is no denying that this pandemic has been a difficult experience for parents and children alike and I applaud the amazing resilience of our young people,’ said children and families minister Vicky Ford.
‘Right from the start of this pandemic we prioritised children and young people’s wellbeing by keeping schools open for vulnerable pupils and developing resources for parents and schools to use remotely, as well as making sure communication continued online between mental health and education professionals when it could no longer happen face-to-face.
‘Getting all children back into the classroom from September was our national priority because we know that is the best place for their mental health and wellbeing. Many still need support and this report is part of making sure that the investment we’re making helps those who need it the most.’
Most children and young people up to age 17 remain happy with their relationships with friends, according to the report. However, only one-third to one half of primary age children had regular contact with friends between April and August, and loneliness was an issue for some older young people.
The relationships between children and parents mostly stayed the same, but more than 25% of those captured by the publicly available date say their relationships have improved.
Children and young people have been worried about the potential that friends or family could catch COVID-19, while other common worries include catching it themselves and missing school.
Most children undertook remote learning, although the report notes ‘consistent difficulties’ in maintaining motivation to learn and challenges for parents who have struggled to find time to help their children and to access enough support and guidance.
The majority of children and young people were fairly physically active between April and July, although the proportion achieving the recommended amount of 60 minutes a day may have reduced. The majority of children also spent some time in green and natural places at least a couple of times a week between April and August.
There are indications from the data that some groups such as young disabled people have reported higher and increasing feelings of being anxious. Parents have also reported that children with special educational needs or a disability from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) backgrounds may be feeling more anxious.
Similarly, young people who were economically disadvantaged reported lower life satisfaction in April to early May than those who were financially better off, though between July and early September there was no significant difference between these two groups.
Minister for mental health and suicide prevention Nadine Dorries said: ‘This global pandemic has brought challenges, disruption and uncertainty to many lives and has impacted not only our physical health, but our mental health and wellbeing too.
‘Despite these additional pressures, children and young people across this country have shown huge resilience in the face of change. The results of this report are testament to the impact that government funding and NHS support can have on our mental health.’
Responding to the report, The Children’s Society’s policy and research manager, Richard Crellin, said: ‘It’s vital that the Government properly understands how children and young people have been affected by the pandemic, so that we can start to improve their lives.
‘What this report tells us is that it is still too soon to know what the full impact of this global health crisis will be. But we do know that some children will be worse off than others: those with disabilities, those in BAME communities, those from families who are struggling financially, and those at risk of abuse and neglect.
‘At The Children’s Society, we work with these children and young people all year round. We know that their well-being has been put at greater risk than ever before this year – but we also know what a difference the right support can make for them.
‘This report is a welcome step, but there are still far too many gaps in our understanding about what has happened to our children. This highlights the need for comprehensive national measurement of children’s well-being, so that we can truly understand how children are feeling and how their lives have been affected by the pandemic.
‘With the right data and information, Government can invest wisely to build a brighter future for all our children – whatever their circumstances.’