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A new study analyses responses of self-reported wellbeing from 17,000 UK school students (aged 8-18 years) during the COVID-19 lockdown. One third (33%) of students reported improved mental wellbeing during the first UK lockdown, similarly a third (32.9%) reported that mental wellbeing had remained the same, and another third (33.9%) of students reported their mental wellbeing had deteriorated.

Child at home draws a rainbow on the window.

Published in European Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, the study uses data from the 2020 OxWell Student Survey, a self-report cross-sectional survey of English children and young people (CYP). 

Students answered questions about their experiences of the pandemic, school, home life, and relationships.

Students who felt that they had had better wellbeing during lockdown were also more likely than their peers to report positive lockdown experiences of school, home, relationships, and lifestyle. For example, compared with their peers, a greater percentage of students reporting better wellbeing also reported decreases in bullying, improved relationships with friends and family, less loneliness, better management of schoolwork, more sleep, and more exercise during lockdown compared with before.

Professor Mina Fazel, Department of Psychiatry, University of Oxford, said:


'The OxWell data offers a rich insight into the lives of children and young people during the COVID-19 lockdown. The pandemic has undoubtedly had negative consequences for many, not least for those affected by illness, death of family members and loved ones, socioeconomic stressors, and disruption to family and community life. However, for some children and young people we have seen reported benefits to their mental health and wellbeing during lockdown. We wanted to understand more about this and in particular, determine if some of the positive changes could be sustained and help promote better mental health and wellbeing going forward.'

This study provides insight into individual and environmental factors that may support CYP to thrive in the context of school disruption and adversity. 

Educational differences:

  • Increased opportunities during lockdown for flexible and tailored teaching that encourage different styles of learning and student autonomy over schedule and schoolwork
  • For those in school, smaller class sizes and more focused attention from teachers
  • For those at home, later wake times and more freedom during the school day
  • A greater focus on sport, play, and the creative arts for some
  • Fewer typical school day distractions, E.G. negative comparisons with other students, school-based anxiety, sensory challenges, concerns about disciplinary action, uniform requirements
  • Greater emphasis in general about maintaining wellbeing.

Interpersonal relationships:

  • Improvement in relationships with family and friends, through social media and digital platforms, for some 
  • Potential opportunity to make new friends for those CYP in school at the time
  • Respite from negative relationships
  • Less bullying experienced.

Professor Fazel advises:

'Our findings suggest a dual emphasis at school on both achievement and building interpersonal relationships is essential. Flexibility on some aspects of school structure and expectations might better support children and young people's mental health and wellbeing. Further examination, exploration and reflection on our children and young people's experiences over the course of the pandemic will be paramount to understanding how the reported benefits can be maintained for the millions of children and young people in education now and beyond the pandemic.'

Read the full paper, Happier during lockdown: a descriptive analysis of self-reported wellbeing in 17,000 UK school students during the COVID-19 lockdown.


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