The easing of lockdown seems to have helped many British teenagers’ mental health but loneliness and anxiety remain extremely common, according to new research by the Mental Health Foundation and Swansea University.
The study, launched in summer 2020, is one of the few that repeatedly asks younger teenagers about their experiences of the pandemic.
The latest results were gathered from 2,349 British teenagers, in an online survey by YouGov between 24th May and 15th June.
“We’re seeing hopeful signs of young people’s resilience in our latest data but also evidence that many teenagers have a mental health ‘hangover’ from the pandemic,” said Catherine Seymour, Head of Research at the Mental Health Foundation.
Professor Ann John, of Swansea University, said: “The big influences on teenagers’ mental health are living in economic adversity and having pre-existing mental and physical health conditions and disabilities. And, specifically, that time in late teens of rapid social and emotional changes and life transitions. It is teenagers in these groups who appear to be less likely to bounce back from the effects of the pandemic.
“Looking forward, we really need to ensure that these inequalities are not widened and that the pandemic does not have knock-on, long-lasting effects on their futures.
“To do this, we need policies and practical initiatives that span government departments and go beyond mental health services - although these are vital and chronically underfunded - to include accessible and accessed employment, training and education opportunities, financial safety nets for families and affordable housing.”
The latest results were gathered online when young people were back in school, restrictions were lifting and vaccines being rolled out.
The proportion of teenagers who say their own mental health is poor has fallen from 18 per cent of those surveyed in March to 14 per cent of those questioned in the new survey.
Pessimism is also becoming less common, although it is widespread. When the study previously asked teenagers about the future for people their age, 65 per cent said it would be a lot or a little worse. This has fallen to 57 per cent of teenagers questioned in the latest survey.
Further results suggest that fewer teenagers are having experiences associated with depression, including problems with sleeping, appetite, concentrating and feeling bad about themselves.
Ms Seymour added: “While all this is encouraging, our results also show that loneliness is widespread, despite the unlocking, while huge numbers remain anxious about the pandemic. Loneliness is especially significant, because it suggests a lack of the nourishing relationships that help teenagers to cope with difficult times. Loneliness leaves them more vulnerable.”
Anxiety also remains common. Forty-three per cent of those surveyed said they are very or fairly worried about another lockdown, 45 per cent are very or fairly worried about their family or friends being ill with Covid and 32 per cent very or fairly worried about someone close to them dying.
The study is supported by MQ Mental Health Research, which recently led calls for the Government to do more to support the mental health of children and young people during the pandemic.
Lea Milligan, the charity’s Chief Executive, said: “The improvements to wellbeing that young people are self-reporting through this survey are a welcome first step to recovery. If we are to truly ensure the future health of the Covid generation, then much more needs to be done.”