‘COVID-19 impact on mental health’. The headlines are all too familiar; there is no getting away from the fact that the pandemic significantly impacted everyone’s mental health. Our lives have changed drastically. People are in jobs that never existed before, hybrid working is now the norm for many, and even the way we meet and greet friends has been affected.
But for our younger generation, the day-to-day disruption and isolation had a huge effect on two years of their childhood. We often think of children as adaptable, and while that can be true, it’s important to remember that changes in young people’s lives don’t come without stress.
COVID-19 impact on mental health – mental health services are stretched
I met with Grace Hershey, who works with the Children’s and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS), to discuss the ways she has seen the pandemic affect adolescents in particular.
“I’ve seen a definite increase in the demand for our services over the last two years,” she tells me. “For some students, the changes and the disruption have had a hugely negative impact on their anxiety levels”.
It’s no wonder Grace has noticed that children are experiencing more anxiety. The constant changes to the lockdown rules meant that they were never sure what was expected of them week by week. The Early Childhood Learning and Knowledge Centre states that children feel more confident and secure when their daily activities are predictable and familiar. The pandemic meant that, while learning could in some form continue outside of the classroom, a consistent daily routine was difficult to establish.
“School-based anxiety has increased too, which can lead to school refusal. The transition back into school has been very difficult for some,” says Grace.
Children have experienced so many changes in such a short space of time that it has been very difficult for them to return to school as though everything is as it once was. Young Minds found that one in six children aged five to 16 were identified as having a potential mental health problem in 2021, which is a massive increase from one in nine in 2017. It amounts to five children in every classroom. Similarly, 83% of pupils with existing mental health needs reported that the coronavirus pandemic worsened their condition.
School life becomes much harder for pupils when battling a mental health condition. When you add having to navigate a global disease alongside trying to find out who you are as an individual, the pressure can become overbearing.
COVID-19 impact on mental health – schools are under strain
Schools have been open again for several months, but the impact of the coronavirus remains. Teachers and other staff members are frequently unwell; not just with COVID-19 –many are understandably burnt out from working so tirelessly over the past 24 months. Their ill-health has a knock-on effect on pupils in the classroom, as it becomes difficult to get back to ‘normal’ when you can’t even be sure who will be teaching you every day.
Schools are undoubtedly sharing the pressure felt by their pupils. Grace recommends structuring a new system to help pupils find a space to decompress during their day. “Being available to pupils to talk about how they feel, letting them know who they can speak to if they’re struggling and informing them of the services to access”.
Mentally Healthy Schools states that children should have positive and consistent relationships with staff who they feel able to confide in. This safeguard was strained by the pandemic, as students could not meet with their teachers every day.
We must recognise that children need someone or something they can use to vent their frustrations. Good Therapy suggests that managing emotions is one of the most important life skills a person can develop. They put forward ways to help teens manage their feelings, such as journaling or physical activity, which can positively release energy build up.
COVID-19 impact on mental health – parents are feeling the pressure
Parents have also found it challenging during the pandemic, with many feeling unable to do anything to help their children feel better. Grace has some suggestions for what parents can do to support kids if they are struggling.
“My advice to parents would be to link in with your child’s school. Communication is key so ask the school about any support they can offer both in and out of the classroom. Let your GP know, too; that’s the best way to get the ball rolling and access the right support.”
Place2Be, a charity that aims to support children’s mental health, has some advice for parents who are living with a mentally ill child, such as finding time to talk and really listening to your their needs. Spending time together socially releases tension and creates a positive outlet for your child.
Children and adolescents who might be struggling also need to reach out if they feel they can. Grace offers some advice to young people who may need some support.
“Always speak out. Let others know how you feel and get yourself some further support. There are many great resources online you can access, and lots of charities available with tools to manage your emotions more positively.”
Whatever mental health conditions you may be battling, getting the right support is the dominant message here. It can be so isolating for children and young people if they feel like they are suffering alone, but parents, teachers and peers must work together to create a more positive and stable environment for those we love.
Thank you for visiting our blog. Our vision here at Books2All is a world where every child finds the books that help them reach their true potential. If you have spare books in good condition at home that you think might be appropriate for school children or represent a school and would like to register to receive donated books, please download the Books2All app from the App Store or Google Play.
Banner image courtesy of Pexels.
Girl inset image courtesy of artursafronovvvv – www.freepik.com
Man inset image courtesy of Drazen Zigic – www.freepik.com