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REACH study to investigate the impact of COVID-19 on mental health in young people

An existing King’s College London project that is researching the mental health of young people from diverse backgrounds and inner-city areas will be tailoring its next wave of data collection to understand how the COVID-19 pandemic and related public health measures are affecting these young people.

REACH study crop

REACH (Resilience, Ethnicity and AdolesCent mental Health) is an ongoing study of adolescent mental health in inner-city London schools. It is the largest contemporary UK-based study of the mental health of young people from diverse backgrounds and inner-city areas. The first five years of REACH are funded by the European Research Council. For four years researchers at the ESRC Centre for Society and Mental Health have been working with over 4000 young people from 12 mainstream secondary schools, in Lambeth and Southwark. The aim is to understand the extent and nature of mental health problems among diverse groups, what factors increase and, importantly, decrease the risk of problems, and why.

The current COVID-19 pandemic is likely to produce specific impacts on the mental health of young people with potentially long-term consequences. Already, reports are indicating that those from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) backgrounds and lower socioeconomic groups are more negatively affected by both the virus itself and the measures put in place to prevent its spread. Young people from these groups are particularly vulnerable and targeted research is needed to understand their experiences and develop valuable and effective initiatives to protect their mental health during and after the pandemic.

Young people taking part in REACH have already provided detailed information about their mental health and social and personal circumstances at three time points prior to the pandemic. The next wave of data collection is being tailored to examine the impact of the pandemic on young people from diverse backgrounds. The researchers are inviting existing REACH participants to complete an online questionnaire about their experiences and their mental health during lockdown, with plans to repeat this again in about 6 and 18 months. This will help researchers understand the short- and long-term effects of the pandemic on young people and which groups of young people are most affected over time.

While the pandemic will impact most groups of young people, it will likely not affect all groups equally. In contrast to many COVID-19 studies on mental health, the REACH cohort is a truly representative sample of the population of young people in Lambeth and Southwark in terms of gender, socio-economic status, and ethnicity.

All young people are being affected by the pandemic to some extent, but some groups will be affected more than others. For example, those from disadvantaged backgrounds, marginalised groups, and those who were already experiencing mental health difficulties prior to the pandemic, may be particularly vulnerable.– REACH Co-ordinator, Dr Gemma Knowles, from the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN), King’s College London

She continues, ‘It’s important that we collect robust information on representative samples, now and over time, to understand which groups are most affected, and why. Such information will help us to understand how best to mitigate any longer term mental health impacts and inequalities that might arise – or become more pronounced – as a result of this crisis. With the help of young people, teachers, and schools, we hope the next wave of REACH will contribute to this effort.’

The age group itself spans key transition periods, from GCSEs and A-Levels to the first steps out of education. This will be especially poignant during COVID-19 given school closures, delayed exams, and wider social and economic consequences.

This study is highly collaborative, involving many local teachers and young people to shape what REACH is doing, and how.

For more information on REACH:

Contact: Franca Davenport, Interim Senior Press Officer, IoPPN, King's College London

Email: franca.davenport@kcl.ac.uk Tel: +44 7718 697176

In this story

Craig Morgan

Craig Morgan

Professor of Social Epidemiology

Gemma Knowles

Gemma Knowles

Research Associate

Charlotte Gayer-Anderson

Charlotte Gayer-Anderson

Research Fellow