The Coronavirus pandemic has impacted us all in a variety of ways. It is something that was never anticipated and therefore, as a society, we are learning to manage the implications of such an event. It is widely acknowledged that the pandemic has had a considerable influence on mental health, not simply in adults, but in children too. When you think of mental health, your first thought might not be of children, but this is a common misconception. Prior to the pandemic (2017), 1 in 9 children suffered from a mental disorder. Present-day statistics show that this is now (as of July 2020) 1 in 6.1 Recent research demonstrates that there is currently a ten-year gap between children first exhibiting symptoms of a mental health disorder and getting help. One thing that I hope you gain from this blog post is that the most important step towards improving the mental health of our children is getting a conversation started and removing the mental health taboo. It is one simple step that will make all the difference.
Mental health and well-being should always be a priority for children.
Surely the goal of education is that we provide children with the skills to live a happy and healthy life, contributing to our society in a positive way. A significant part of this is how we handle mental health and well-being. The statistics around children’s mental health, independent of the pandemic, make for scary reading. Here’s a link to a really useful factsheet about children’s mental health that you might want to take a look at: Mental Health Factsheet. Arming ourselves with the knowledge of mental health will help us to help children.
A survey by Young Minds in January 2021 studied the impact of the pandemic specifically regarding children’s mental health.
The study, amongst many others, has provided useful insights into what our children are currently facing. For more information we’d highly recommend reading the report in full: Impact Study 2021. Here are a few of the highlights of their research over the course of the multiple lockdowns…
- 67% of young people believe that the pandemic will have a long-term negative effect on their mental health.
- 80% of respondents said the pandemic has made their mental health worse, with 41% saying it was ‘much worse’.
- 31% said they were unable to access support but still needed it.
- 87% of young people said they felt lonely or isolated during the lockdown periods.
It has been suggested that as a result of having to adapt to dramatic changes in their home-life, education and routine, young people who were already considered to be marginalised or ‘disadvantaged’ are now likely to become even more so.
The devastating impact of the pandemic upon children can be seen all over the world.
School systems in Singapore, which is acknowledged to have one of the best school systems in the world, are incorporating mental health education into their curriculum. Weekly sessions, both across primary and secondary aged students, have been instigated in order to provide the necessary support and coping mechanisms for children to manage stress and anxiety, amongst other mental health issues. This focus on mental health is being seen around the globe, with many countries opting to include more mental health and well-being education into their curriculum. One might even argue that this focus on mental health is something positive to come out of the pandemic, which was obviously an incredibly negative experience.2
Providing support for children’s mental health is more of a priority than ever before.
However, we as a society are still falling short of what is required of us. In a report published by the NHS, it has been found that the rate of mental disorders has increased since 2017. It has suggested that children and young people with a probable mental disorder were more likely to say that the pandemic has made their lives worse, and that only 62% of children with a probable mental disorder had regular support from their school. To access this information, click the link here: NHS Digital.
Hopefully, the best is yet to come.
The more we talk about mental health, and normalise mental illness, the better we are able to support our children and young people. The pandemic has brought to light an area where our education system needs improvement. Access to mental health support and treatment is key, of course, but what we as professionals can do is talk about mental health, enquire as to the well-being of our students, and allow for an open conversation to flow. Young Minds has a fantastic campaign to encourage people to talk about mental health. I’d highly recommend you take a look: Get Britain Talking. The webpage has some great resources to equip you in your mental health education and journey. As a society, it is our duty to make sure our children feel safe and have access to the support they need.