How did the mental health of children and adolescents change during early lockdown during the COVID-19 pandemic in the UK?
Waite P., Pearcey S., Shum A., Raw J., Patalay P., Creswell C.
BackgroundThe COVID-19 pandemic has caused extensive disruption to the lives of children and young people. Understanding the psychological effects on children and young people, in the context of known risk factors, is crucial to mitigate the effects of the pandemic. This study set out to explore how mental health symptoms in children and adolescents changed over a month of full lockdown in the UK in response to the pandemic.MethodsUK-based parents and carers (n = 2,673) of school-aged children and young people aged between 4 and 16 years completed an online survey about their child’s mental health at two time points between March and May 2020, during early lockdown. The survey examined changes in emotional symptoms, conduct problems and hyperactivity/inattention.ResultsThe findings highlighted particular deteriorations in mental health symptoms among pre-adolescent children, which translated to a 10% increase in those meeting possible/probable caseness criteria for emotional symptoms, a 20% increase in hyperactivity/inattention, and a 35% increase in conduct problems. In contrast, changes among adolescents were smaller (4% and 8% increase for hyperactivity/inattention and conduct problems respectively) with a small reduction in emotional symptoms (reflecting a 3% reduction in caseness). Overall, there were few differences in change in symptoms or caseness over time according to demographic characteristics, but children and young people in low income households and those with special educational needs and/or neurodevelopmental disorders, exhibited elevated symptoms (and caseness) at both time points. ConclusionsThe findings highlight important areas of concern in terms of the potential impact of lockdown on children and young people’s adjustment. Developing an understanding of who has been most severely affected by the pandemic, and in what ways, is crucial in order to target effective support where it is most needed.