Children and Young People's Mental Health in 2021 - What do we know?

Children and Young Peoples Mental Health in 2021 - What do we know?

In October 2020 the NHS published the Mental Health Survey for Children and Young People. The Survey is notable because it follows up with participants who were questioned in 2017.

The Survey offers a sobering insight into children and young people’s mental health, suggesting one in six children aged 5-16 was experiencing a probable mental disorder in 2020. This is up from one in nine in 2017. Among young people aged 17-22, the rate was up to one in four.

How has Covid-19 affected children and young people?

Over 40% of children and young people reported that lockdown made their life worse. They experienced anxieties about the pandemic and feared for the safety of family and friends. Parents identified not seeing friends as their biggest concern for their children/young people during lockdown, ahead of the impact on their education.

The economic effects of Covid have been significant across all geographical areas and social groups. Information from parents indicated 28% of children lived in a household that experienced a reduction in income during 2020, and 8.5% in a household that had fallen behind with payments during that time; 2.4% reported struggling to afford food or having to use food banks. The Survey found increased financial strain was strongly associated with child mental health concerns.

Children/young people may also be exercising less, and low levels of physical activity are associated with poorer self-esteem and wellbeing scores in girls and boys through adolescence.

What about education?

Almost half of children (5-16) did not attend school between late March and July 2020 because their school was closed. Local authority duties to secure EHCP provision were temporarily downgraded to ‘reasonable endeavours’ if Covid made delivery difficult, and many pupils missed months of support and therapy.

Uncertainty around exams added to children and young people’s worries. By the time of the first lockdown in 2020, pupils had their mock A level, AS level or GCSEs grades and were revising for the upcoming exams. When exams were cancelled, schools and colleges were asked for the grades they believed pupils would have achieved, which would then be standardised to confirm final calculated grades. In the end, standardisation was scrapped and students were awarded either the grade suggested by their school or college, or (somewhat confusingly) their calculated grade if this was higher. (In 2021, grades will be determined by schools and colleges alone).

The decision to include children/young people with EHCPs, alongside those in the care system or in receipt of social care support, as ‘vulnerable’ has met with a mixed response from parents. Pupils who are permitted to attend school during the current lockdown may be expected to comply with handwashing/sanitising routines, social distancing, and wearing masks. Their friends may not be attending school, and teaching bubbles may mean they are working with less familiar pupils and staff. Pupils with SEND may find these changes especially difficult.

Remotely educated pupils are also struggling: 38% of parents cite lack of contact with classmates as the main challenge for their child learning remotely from home. (Ofsted)

Is there any good news?

This year the categories of pupils permitted to attend school/college during lockdown have broadened, and includes those who ‘need to attend to receive support or manage risks to their mental health’. The absolute duty on local authorities to secure EHCP provision remains.

During 2020 Mental Health Support Teams were being introduced into education settings to provide early intervention on some mental health and emotional wellbeing issues, such as mild to moderate anxiety, help staff within a school or college setting to provide a ‘whole school approach’ to mental health and wellbeing, and link to mental health services. The NHS has committed to funding for children/young people’s mental health services growing faster than both overall NHS funding and total mental health spending, and hopes this will enable an additional 345,000 children/young people to be able to access support by 2023/24.

This is part of a series of articles for Children’s Mental Health Week 2021. You can find the official Children’s Mental Health Week website here: https://www.childrensmentalhealthweek.org.uk/

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