Coronavirus: Impact On Young People With Mental Health Needs

This report by YoungMinds investigates the mental health impact of the Covid-19 coronavirus on young people with mental health needs reveals the pressure that the crisis has put on young people and support services.

Although they understood the need for the measures taken in response to the virus, the report says, this did not lessen the impact. Many of those who took part in the survey reported increased anxiety, problems with sleep, panic attacks or more frequent urges to self-harm.

The COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic is the biggest health crisis for generations, and it is having a devastating impact on the lives of people across the world. The measures that the UK Government is taking to address the crisis – including restrictions on movement and the closure of schools to most students – are absolutely necessary to save lives.

The pandemic is also a mental health risk for our society. The uncertainty, the anxiety, the fear of becoming ill or seeing a loved one become ill, the loss of our normal routines, the difficulties of social connection, and in many cases the disruption to education could have a profound impact on the nation’s mental health.

For children and young people who are already struggling with their mental health, this is an extremely difficult time. The report is a snapshot of young people’s views and experiences at a particular time, in a rapidly changing situation. The challenges they face, the concerns they have and their ability to access support may change considerably over the coming weeks.

Main Findings:

  • Despite the immense difficulties, around three-quarters of young people who were accessing mental health support before the restrictions came into place are still currently able to do so, even if this service may now be reduced or adapted.
  • When asked what impact the pandemic was having:
    • 32%agreed that it had made their mental health much worse
    • 51% agreed that it had made their mental health a bit worse
    • 9% agreed that it made no difference to their mental health
    • 6% said that their mental health had become a bit better
    • 1% said that their mental health had become much better
  • Many respondents stated that they understood and supported the Government’s response – to close schools and universities to most students, encourage social distancing and ban public gatherings – and indeed some were critical of what they perceived as a slow speed of restrictive measures. However, while young people overwhelmingly accepted the response, this did not lessen the impact of the crisis. Many reported increased anxiety, problems with sleep, panic attacks or more frequent urges to self-harm among those who already self-harmed.
  • Many respondents were deeply anxious about the health of their family, and about harming those around them by inadvertently spreading the virus. Some young people, including some with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, talked about a fixation with hygiene and a need to remain clean. Several young people who were either key workers themselves, or whose parents were key workers (for example, working in a supermarket), were anxious about the virus spreading in their workplace.
  • A smaller number of young people, usually with underlying health conditions, expressed concern about their own health.
  • The closure of schools and universities to most students creates uncertainty both in the short term and in relation to educational and employment outcomes in the future. For children who are living in difficult or dangerous situations, the closures may also represent the loss of a safe and stable environment.
  • Young people were concerned by school and university closures for many reasons:
    • Potential loss of contact with friends
    • Concerns about how their grades would be assessed or about the impact on their university or career prospects
    • Concerns about home learning, both for practical reasons and because of stress related to the pandemic
    • Loss of structure that school represents
    • Loss of formal or informal pastoral support
    • Loss of their ‘safe’ place away from difficult or dangerous home environments
  • Many young people manage their mental health through maintaining routines that are being disrupted by the measures to control the pandemic.
  • Respondents were frequently anxious about the impact of not being able to take part in day-to-day activities that they regarded as important coping mechanisms – for example, dance or exercise classes.
  • Many respondents described routine or specific activities as important coping mechanisms. Some were concerned that having far more time at home would mean that they overthought things and were more likely to use negative coping strategies, like self-harm.
  • Many young people were concerned about losing connection with friends, non-immediate family and other trusted adults. This was especially so among those who did not feel confident or comfortable using phones or who had limited access to technology. Some young people missed physical proximity with their friends and felt that talking online was not the same.
  • Other themes cited frequently included:
    • Concern about dangerous or crowded home environment
    • Concern about family’s finances or about losing their own job
    • Anxiety about not being able to buy food, or about no longer getting meals at school
    • Young people, including those with eating disorders, expressing anxiety about food, amidst food shortages and potential restrictions on exercise
    • Young people with ADHD concerned about not being able to go outside as much as they wished to
    • Experiencing racism as a result of the pandemic
  • Young peoples top three concerns were about coping over the next few months. The three most common answers were:
    • Isolation / loneliness
    • Not having enough food / supplies
    • Managing mental health / mental health deteriorating
  • A small number of young people reported that their mental health had improved during the crisis. This was often related to:
    • Having a difficult relationship with school – for example, being bullied – and relief that they would no longer have to attend
    • Feeling positive about the response – for example, friends proactively contacting them and reminding them that they are valued
    • Finding that their own anxiety has a clear focus, and is now shared by other people
  • We respondents were asked what impact the pandemic had had on their ability to access mental health support,74% said that they were still able to access some form of mental health support. 26% said that they were no longer able to access mental health support.
  • Challenges of remote support:
    • Where young people continued to access support remotely, some welcomed the efforts that professionals had gone to in order to continue to provide support.
    • However, most respondents felt that support by phone or online would be ineffective or less effective than face-to-face support, because of a lack of privacy at home or a fear of their family overhearing the session. In some cases, family relationships are at the centre of young people’s therapy, and so it would be difficult to discuss concerns while at home. In other cases, young people said that their families did not know that they were receiving mental health support – and they did not want them find out. Some young people remained more generally anxious about talking on the phone or via video calls.
    • Some providers are encouraging young people to have therapy while they are on a walk (for their one permitted piece of exercise per day), in order to ensure they can talk with privacy.
    • Some young people who usually access online support feel like it takes longer to get it due to influx of people with mental health needs arising from the COVID-19 crisis.
    • Rising demand means that some respondents felt it was harder to get their calls answered when they contacted helplines.
    • Some young people reported that they hadn’t yet been told where to get support now they’re losing their usual route to access support
    • Some young people reported the wider issue of being left without support after course of counselling ends – a challenge that pre-dates the coronavirus.
  • Young people commonly wanted a continuation of existing support, and often specifically face-to-face support. More generally, respondents expressed a wish to have someone to talk to and just to listen. While it is clear that face-to-face support has severe public health risks and it is therefore understandable that it is extremely difficult to manage, it is important to plan ahead for a resumption of services when it is possible.
  • In the absence of face-to-face support, respondents highlighted the importance of online and digital tools to facilitate ongoing and existing support. However, some respondents highlighted technological challenges as well as personal preferences and effectiveness.
  • Government action required:
  • Ensure that the NHS, schools, charities and other providers have the funding and resources they need to deliver services, including digital, virtual, text-based and telephone therapies, to children, young people, parents and carers
  • Enable a coordinated effort across the NHS, schools and other providers to support those young people who are hardest to reach, who are unable to access remote support, or who do not find it helpful for their needs.
  • Prioritise clear and ongoing public health messaging aimed at children, young people and families about what they can do to look after their wellbeing and mental health.

Link: https://youngminds.org.uk/media/3708/coronavirus-report_march2020.pdf