This qualitative study examined adolescents’ experiences of their mental health and wellbeing during the COVID-19 pandemic. Young people, aged 11 to 16, were interviewed between December 2020 and March 2021 about their thoughts, feelings and behaviours throughout the pandemic and associated restrictions in the United Kingdom; parents and professionals were also interviewed to gain a comprehensive understanding of young people’s experiences.
Thematic analysis of the interviews discerned five main themes (also presented in figure below):
- Positives: Young people discussed how the pandemic (initially) brought a welcome release from the pressure of school. The abrupt halt of school, clubs and activities also gave them more free time to spend on their hobbies and with their family.
- Worries and anxiety: Nevertheless, young people experienced uneasiness and rumination about the constant changes throughout the pandemic (e.g., changing rules and restrictions), as well as concerns about their own and other’s safety. Participants expressed a range of concerns about attending or not attending school, and worries about the future.
- Sadness and anger about losses: Young people struggled with the loss of routine and missing out on major events, and discussed the emotional impact of not being able to spend time with their friends and wider family. Although adolescents used technology to stay in touch with others, they felt that things just weren’t the same.
- Mental exhaustion: Participants described feeling caught in a cycle of hope and hopelessness, becoming more exhausted by lockdowns and restrictions as time went on. Home-learning weighed on young people, who described it as “overwhelming”.
- Support from others: Support came from a range of sources. Opinions about the support received from school were mixed, as were feelings about support received from mental health services. Young people often relied on their family for support, and found it helpful to be able to talk to their friends.
Figure: Themes and sub-themes representing young people’s experiences of the COVID-19 pandemic