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Pandemic impacts on mental health of young people: the REACH study

REACH (Resilience, Ethnicity, and AdolesCent Mental Health) is an ongoing cohort study of adolescent mental health in two inner-city London boroughs, Southwark and Lambeth. A series of new reports from the study highlight the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the mental health of young people in south London.

Twelve state-funded secondary schools in Southwark and Lambeth were invited to participate in the REACH study in 2015-2016. Schools were selected to be representative of mainstream secondary schools within the two boroughs, based on: (i) the proportion of students eligible for free school meals and (ii) the proportion of students from minority ethnic groups.

All students in school years 7 to 9 (n, 4,945) were invited to participate, creating three cohorts:

  • Cohort 1: School Year 7 - age 11-12
  • Cohort 2: School Year 8 – age 12-13
  • Cohort 3: School Year 9 – age 13-14

Each cohort completed questionnaires annually for three years prior to the Covid-19 pandemic. Further waves of data collection were launched after the start of the pandemic (“Time 4 (T4) Covid-19 waves”) and these are ongoing. The aim is to track the mental health of adolescents, who have previously taken part in the REACH study, throughout the Covid-19 pandemic.

Having collected information on mental health and associated risks from large cohorts of adolescents in the three years immediately before Covid-19, REACH was in a position to directly examine the impacts of the pandemic in a highly diverse sample of adolescents in inner London. Knowing how young people have been affected – and whether the impacts vary by social and ethnic group – is critical if we are to develop appropriate and effective responses that can support young people to thrive post-pandemic.– Dr Gemma Knowles, REACH Co-Investigator and Research Fellow, Centre for Society and Mental Health

The below reports present findings and explore the various factors which have influenced mental health for adolescents throughout the pandemic.

Our findings tell us that it is young people who have been most directly affected by Covid-19 and restrictions to control its spread who have experienced the most distress. That is, it is those who live in households that are struggling financially, who live in cramped conditions, who have difficult relationships with family, who struggled with home schooling. This disproportionately means those in low-income households. The current cost of living crisis will only worsen this.– Professor Craig Morgan, REACH Principal Investigator and Co-Director of the Centre for Society and Mental Health
There is an urgent need – as many others are saying – for a series of policy measures to provide financial and other support to the most disadvantaged and those most impacted. This is reflected in the policy priorities we have identified with young people.– Dr Charlotte ​Gayer-Anderson, REACH Post-Doctoral Researcher, Centre for Society and Mental Health

Read the article

These reports accompany the following journal article:

Knowles G, Gayer-Anderson C, Turner A, Dorn, L, Lam J, Davis S, Blakey R, Lowis K, Schools Working Group; Young Persons Advisory Group; Pinfold V, Creary N, Dyer J, Hatch SL, Ploubidis G, Bhui K, Harding S, Morgan C. (In Press) Covid-19, social restrictions, and mental distress among young people: a UK longitudinal, population-based study. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry 


Young People, Covid-19, and Mental Health: The REACH Covid-19 Study (Part 1)

Download the full series of reports below

In this story

Charlotte Gayer-Anderson

Charlotte Gayer-Anderson

Research Fellow

Gemma Knowles

Gemma Knowles

Lecturer in Epidemiology and Youth Mental Health

Lynsey Dorn

Research Assistant

Stephani Hatch

Stephani Hatch

Vice Dean for Culture, Diversity & Inclusion

Seeromanie  Harding

Seeromanie Harding

Professor of Social Epidemiology

Craig Morgan

Craig Morgan

Professor of Social Epidemiology

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