Children and young people’s wellbeing and mental health during the Covid-19 pandemic

Lisa Kuhn, Ishbelle Norris, Georgia Sawyer, Gemma Schwendel and Liz Twist

01 December 2022

This report presents key findings from a review of the evidence about the influence of the Covid-19 pandemic and the country’s response to it on the wellbeing and mental health of children and young people in the UK.

In the context of declining wellbeing and mental health among children and young people before the pandemic, we find some evidence that this decline has continued and that some groups have been more affected than others.

The data is complex and it is not easy to disentangle specific pandemic effects. There is a limited amount of pre-pandemic baseline data with which to compare. It is perhaps not surprising, therefore, that studies draw different – and sometimes conflicting – conclusions.

We know that school connectedness – how young people feel they are accepted, supported, respected and included in the school community – is a protective factor and can reduce later mental health problems. In the light of evidence that some young people felt greater connectedness with school during the pandemic, we suggest that schools consider if there are practices introduced during the pandemic that could transfer to more conventional times.

This report complements an NFER report reviewing evidence of the impact of the pandemic on pupil attainment

Key Findings

Some tentative conclusions can be drawn from this review of selected studies:

  • Secondary-aged girls and primary-aged boys appear to have been most vulnerable to declines in mental health during the pandemic. This is in the context of secondary-aged girls having poorer pre-pandemic mental health than boys.
  • The evidence suggests that disadvantaged children and young people were not more negatively impacted than their non-disadvantaged peers but the pre-pandemic evidence is clear that disadvantage is associated with lower overall wellbeing and mental health.
  • Children and young people with SEND had lower wellbeing and mental health before the pandemic and this persisted through the pandemic.
  • There is some evidence to suggest that the restrictions in early 2021 may have had a more negative impact than the earlier restrictions (March-June 2020).
  • There is some evidence that for some young people, particularly those with pre-existing poorer mental health, the first lockdown may have been associated with some improvement in their mental health and wellbeing.
  • Primary-aged children appear to show greater fluctuations in their mental health and wellbeing.
  • By the summer of 2021, there was some suggestion of an improvement in children’s and young people’s mental health and wellbeing relative to earlier in the year but it may take a period of time before the effects of Covid on children’s and young people’s mental health and wellbeing become fully evident.