NFER review sheds light on impact of Covid-19 on young people’s mental health and wellbeing

Press Release

Thursday 1 December 2022

A study reviewing evidence on the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on children’s mental health and wellbeing has been published by the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER).

The research reviewed previously published UK data and undertook new analysis, looking for trends broken down by groups such as age, gender and disadvantage.

The various data sources used a wide variety of methods, definitions and approaches. This meant drawing comparisons and conclusions was challenging, that findings were mixed – sometimes conflicting - and should therefore be treated in context and with caution.

While the picture is complex, the research did suggest that:

  • Secondary-aged girls were more likely than secondary-aged boys to have experienced a decline in their mental health during the pandemic; secondary-aged boys’ mental health showed some signs of improvement during the same period.

  • Young primary-aged boys showed a greater decline in their mental health during the pandemic than young primary-aged girls. The mental health of primary-aged girls fluctuated more than that of boys.

  • Children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) had lower wellbeing and mental health before the pandemic and this persisted through the pandemic.

  • Disadvantaged children and young people were not more negatively impacted during the pandemic than their non-disadvantaged peers, but it is clear that disadvantage is associated with lower overall wellbeing and mental health.

  • Evidence suggests that the restrictions in early 2021 may have had a more negative impact on mental health and wellbeing than those at the start of the pandemic (March-June 2020).

  • For some young people, particularly those with pre-existing poorer mental health, the first lockdown (March-June 2020) may have been associated with some improvement in their mental health.

Liz Twist, Head of Assessment Research and Product Development at NFER, and one of the authors of the study said:

“Our research illustrates that the pandemic has had a greater impact on some pupils than on others.

“A child’s ability to learn and thrive will be adversely affected by poor mental health and so it is vital that schools have access to specialist support for children and young people.

“Early intervention is vital to reduce the risk of pupils suffering from significant difficulties later in life.”

The study complements an NFER report in March 2022 which focused on evidence detailing the impact of Covid-19 on pupil attainment in England.