After what we’ve been through it’s OK to feel differently, and it is more important than ever to look after our physical and mental wellbeing. This week, Dr Jonathan Fee, Senior Educational & Child Psychologist talks about return to school and the impact of the pandemic on children’s mental health.
“Pupils’ experiences of the pandemic will be very varied. Some, despite restrictions, will feel safe and mostly enjoy their time. For others, it will be challenging or even traumatic.” Mental Health Foundation, (2021)
At times of uncertainty and crisis it is normal for many people to experience an increase in psychological distress. Our inbuilt survival mechanisms are activated, which results in an appropriate reaction to what is very much an abnormal situation. There is no right or wrong way to feel during a crisis. Some individuals may feel anxious, stressed, sad, bored or lonely. Others may be withdrawn or irritable. Some might be enjoying the benefits of home learning and reconnecting with family during lockdown.
So, what do we know about the impact of the pandemic on young people’s mental health? The truth is we don’t really know the long-term impact at this time, but there is some emerging evidence that suggests:
- Children and young people have generally coped well. They report a slight reduction in life satisfaction and happiness appears to have been relatively stable.
- Certain groups have been disproportionally affected, e.g. those who are disadvantaged economically, and people with pre-existing mental health needs.
- Psychological distress seems to peak at the start of a lockdown. As we transition out the level of distress appears to return close to pre-pandemic levels.
Our approach now is important to reduce the likelihood of long-term distress and some of the best ways to support are simple.
Be Honest and Accurate
Ensure children and young people are provided with the right information, in an age appropriate way. Many children continue to be worried about catching covid-19, passing it on to vulnerable family members and then want to know how safe it is to reengage with normal activities. Providing reassurances and information about protective measures can be helpful.
Connectedness & Family Support
The majority of children and young people recover well with family support. There is no need for therapeutic interventions. Coming out of lockdown and being able to engage with friends, return to school and re-engage with leisure activities is intervention enough. The routines and structures offered by family and school offer a sense of familiarity, which makes many people feel safe.
Tolerance & Understanding
At this time, it is important to listen to children and young people and give them the opportunity to co-construct with you about how they would like to move forward. We need to be mindful of each other’s wellbeing over the coming months. This is a period of adjustment and people may be more anxious or irritable as they readjust. If anxiety and worries continue and young people are saying they can't cope or are avoiding talking and socialising, then it is worth accessing further support.
If you were struggling before the pandemic, it is likely the additional pressures of lockdown will have added to your difficulties. For others who were managing okay, you may now feel overwhelmed, e.g. secondary students, report higher levels of anxiety linked to keeping up with school work, changes to exams and uncertainty about the future. Others report a higher level of restlessness and struggles with concentration during the pandemic. These difficulties may impact the transition back to school.
If you have any worries, or are concerned about someone else, it is important to talk to someone in school, such as a teacher, educational support offer or a listener. Many people have accessed the online information, support and counselling offered by Kooth, which is a confidential service that can be accessed on your phone, with support available when you need it (https://www.kooth.com).
- BBC - Back to school: How pupils feel about returning to class
- Mental Health Foundation - Returning to school after lockdown
- DESC Support and Guidance for Schools during the Coronavirus Pandemic
- Public Health England - emerging findings from UK studies of the mental health and wellbeing of children and young people (CYP) in relation to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic
For more tools and resources on mental wellbeing visit: areyouok.gov.im or if you would like to speak to someone call the Community Support and Information Line team on +44 1624 686262.