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Young people’s mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic

This commentary summarises the findings from Co-SPACE between March 2020 and March 2021. Some key points mentioned include:

  • We have seen clear increases in parent-reported symptoms of SDQ (Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire) behavioural and attentional difficulties at times of peak restrictions, when most children were not physically attending school.
  • The highest levels of both parent-reported and adolescent-reported symptoms were when high levels of restrictions were in place and schools were closed to most children.
  • We have seen greater changes in parent-reported SDQ mental health symptoms (in line with pandemic-related restrictions) among pre-adolescent children (aged 4–10 years), but a more stable pattern among adolescents (11–16 years).
  • Stress has also been particularly high among parents of pre-adolescents when restrictions have been high.
  • Other clear patterns include the very high levels of parent-reported SDQ mental health symptoms among children and young people with special educational needs or neurodevelopmental disorders and those living on low family incomes throughout the pandemic.

Ultimately, the learnings from the Co-SPACE study are mostly not new. Economic hardship, special educational needs and neurodevelopmental disorders, parental stress, and child and adolescent mental health are closely related. However, the disruption caused by the pandemic has put these risks for child and adolescent mental health in stark relief. Our findings that some groups of children appear to be less likely to bounce back as restrictions have eased brings further cause for concern.