This makes sense; for people with a positive home life and financial stability, spending more time at home will have been easier and more enjoyable than for those who are from disadvantaged backgrounds, rely more heavily on school meals and resources, or have strained family relationships. Children who have a particularly negative experience at school, for example due to bullying or high academic pressure, are more likely to have experienced relief, rather than anxiety, when the lockdown was announced. For these children, the return to school following a long period at home will be more challenging, and they are likely to require additional support from both families and school staff.
Nonetheless, a concerning number of longitudinal studies and systematic reviews have highlighted the overwhelmingly negative impact of the pandemic. For example, one study led by the IoPPN found that nearly half of the 11-12 year old children in the cohort (44%) reported an increase in symptoms of depression, and a quarter (26%) reported an increase in PTSD symptoms since the start of the pandemic.
The COVID-19 lockdown triggered particular concerns about public mental health, and the research now justifies these. A systematic review led by the IoPPN revealed that the COVID-19 lockdown was associated with poor emotional outcomes for young people, including psychological distress, loneliness, boredom, fear, and stress. Not only did new psychiatric conditions appear, but children and adolescents with previous mental health conditions relapsed. This was particularly prevalent for young people with eating disorders, since the lack of routine made it challenging to maintain structured mealtimes.
Certain young people have been hit harder by the pandemic; research suggests that the presence of mental disorders before the pandemic, having special educational needs, and being female is associated with a greater increase in mental health symptoms throughout the pandemic. Disappointingly, many longitudinal studies fail to recruit diverse samples, making it difficult to judge how the pandemic has impacted different ethnic groups. So far, it seems that Black/Black British children bore the brunt of economic disadvantage during the pandemic, with research finding that they were three times more likely to live in a household that had fallen behind with bills, rent, or mortgage since the pandemic, compared to children in the White British group. This in itself is a risk factor for mental illness, raising concerns about how these young people have fared throughout the pandemic. The REACH study is currently investigating this in more depth by following up with a highly representative sample within inner London to more reliably explore how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted different ethnic groups.