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New research found that secondary school students with access to on-site school provision were more likely to report symptoms of depression and anxiety, as well as perceiving their mental wellbeing to have deteriorated during the first national lockdown, compared to students receiving remote school provision. Importantly, the poorer mental health for the group accessing school was explained by their different backgrounds and certain risk factors, such as past mental health needs and upcoming examinations.

Male and female students wearing facemasks standing at a distance

Females, particularly those who had experienced food shortage, or had previously accessed mental health support, were most at risk. Students with key worker parents and those in the year groups facing national examinations in 2021 also had increased odds of depression, anxiety and negative impacts on their mental wellbeing during lockdown. 

This new study, published in JCPP Advances, surveyed 11,000 English secondary school students during the first 2020 UK lockdown, comparing the mental health and self-reported changes to wellbeing in students who were either accessing on-site school provision, or receiving only remote school provision at home.

Dr Karen Mansfield, lead author, postdoctoral research scientist, Department of Psychiatry, University of Oxford, said:


'The study's findings are in line with the government goals, during lockdowns, of offering on-site school places to the young people who needed them the most. Results also partially confirm predictions that those already at risk of mental health difficulties would be more likely to experience further deterioration through the sorts of restrictions faced during lockdowns. Further research is now needed to identify protective factors and targets suitable for in-school interventions to support the wellbeing of the most affected student groups, to reduce and prevent long term mental health problems, which could have been exacerbated by the pandemic.'

Associate Professor, Mina Fazel, an author on the study, Department of Psychiatry, University of Oxford, said:


'We are very grateful to the many schools and students who took the time to participate in this survey - the high interest and number of responses reflects the concern many schools have about the needs of their students and how best to address them. This study is helping us better identify whom to target and how to understand the added risks the pandemic has brought to younger populations.'

This research was carried out by the OxWell team. Another data collection has just been completed for a follow-up survey of 30,000 school pupils in May-July 2021. Analysis of the data to investigate factors associated with the impact of the pandemic on mental health is on-going. Plans include comparisons with last year's data.

To read the full study, COVID-19 partial school closures and mental health problems: A cross-sectional survey of 11,000 adolescents to determine those most at risk.

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This research has received funding and support from the NIHR Oxford Health Biomedical Research Centre, the Oxford and Thames Valley NIHR Applied Research Collaboration, the MRC Mental Health Data Pathfinder (Oxford) and the Westminster Foundation. Extension of duplicate surveys to schools in each local authority is supported by our local authority and clinical commissioning group partners.