A third of parents are worried their child’s mental health has been affected by the lockdown restrictions, a new survey of more than 250,000 parents suggests.
The survey comes as several studies and open letters warn that isolation has had an impact on child mental health – and could lead to long-term mental health impacts.
The online survey conducted by Parentkind collected the views of over a quarter-of-a-million (257,392) parents across England, Wales and Northern Ireland, following 10 weeks in lockdown.
The survey also suggests 48% of parents are concerned about their child not seeing their friends, but a quarter of parents are concerned how their child will adjust to reopened schools.
The British Psychological Society wrote an open letter to government on 19 May, with support from 30 organisations, which warned that young people previously in receipt of mental health support were receiving “reduced support or no support at all” during lockdown. One in eight under-18s has a diagnosable mental health condition, the BPS said, and the organisation’s research suggests lockdown is exacerbating those needs.
Academics from the University of Bath warned on Monday that its review of loneliness among young people had concluded that isolated young people are more likely to experience high rates of depression and anxiety.
According to the review published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, children who are lonely are up to three times more likely to develop depression. The impact of lockdown on depression could last for at least nine years, the Bath academics added.
There is evidence that it’s the duration of loneliness as opposed to the intensity which seems to have the biggest impact on depression rates in young people
– Dr Maria Loades, University of Bath
The increased risk of depression is linked to the length, and not the intensity, of loneliness, the review’s leader explained. “There is evidence that it’s the duration of loneliness as opposed to the intensity which seems to have the biggest impact on depression rates in young people,” lead researcher Dr Maria Loades said. “This means that returning to some degree of normality as soon as possible is of course important. However, how this process is managed matters when it comes to shaping young people’s feelings and experiences about this period.”
Researchers from the University of Reading urged schools to prioritise playtime over classes as children return to school, in order to support wellbeing and emotional development.
“Peer relationships are unique because they are voluntary, equal, and require negotiation and compromise,” the Reading academics jointly wrote in their blog. “Play with peers allows children to learn to regulate their emotions, develop social skills and form a sense of identity. Without the opportunity to play closely with their friends, children can feel lonely and socially isolated.”
The Parentkind survey asked parents to choose their three biggest concerns from a list of 17 options. Children missing out on socialising with their friends (48%) and learning (38%) were the most frequently cited concerns.
The NHS has published advice for parents on child mental health. They advise parents to encourage their children to adopt good sleep patterns, eat healthily, keep active and keep in contact with family members via digital tools.
The guidance encourages parents to limit conversations about the news but provide children with honest and reliable information about what they should do. Listening to children and allowing them to express themselves is also key, the NHS advises.