Coronavirus: School closures 'increase pupil anxiety'

Pupils' concerns about home learning and a rise in panic attacks and urges to self-harm are revealed in new survey

Coronavirus: Pupils' fears about their mental health have been highlighted in new research

More than 80 per cent of schoolchildren who have a history of mental health problems say the coronavirus pandemic has made their mental health worse, according to new research.

The closure of schools, as well as the loss of routine and social connections, are among the key concerns among 2,111 respondents who took part in a survey carried out by the YoungMinds charity.

In the survey, many young people reported increased anxiety, problems with sleep, panic attacks or more frequent urges to self-harm.

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One respondent said: “GCSEs were cancelled and I feel hopeless and like everything I have done was for nothing.”

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Another said: “Self-isolating and social distancing was a bad habit I worked really hard to get out of. Now I'm being made to do it and being told it's the right thing to do. It's very confusing and I'm scared of falling back into that cycle.”

The online survey was run between 20 March, the day schools closed, and the following Wednesday when further restrictions had been put in place.

“We also know that many young people who previously might not have needed mental health support are likely to do so in future,” YoungMinds chief executive Emma Thomas said.

“As the impact of the pandemic and the restrictions on their lives continues to sink in, more young people are going to struggle to cope.”

Nearly a third of respondents to the survey (32 per cent) agreed that the restrictions in their lives due to the pandemic had made their mental health “much worse”, while 51 per cent agreed that it had made their mental health “a bit worse”.

Other concerns included:

  • Potential loss of contact with friends.
  • Concerns about how their grades would be assessed or about the impact on their university or career prospects.
  • Concerns about home learning, both for practical reasons and because of stress related to the pandemic.
  • Loss of the structure that school represents.
  • Loss of formal or informal pastoral support.

The charity also says school closures may represent the loss of a safe and stable environment for children living in difficult or dangerous situations.

However, some 9 per cent of respondents agreed that the pandemic made no difference to their mental health while 6 per cent said it had become a bit better and 1 per cent said it had become much better.

Some respondents expressed relief that they no longer had to endure a difficult relationship at school, including with bullies.

One respondent said: “My school shut down. I have been FaceTiming my friends all day and it made me realise I was really loved. Also, it has given me time to improve myself and improve skills like playing the piano.”

The charity has now called on the government to introduce measures to tackle children and young people’s mental health needs as “an integral part of their response to the crisis” and to ensure that schools have the funding and resources to deliver mental health services, including digital, virtual, text-based and telephone therapies.

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Dave Speck

Dave Speck is a reporter at Tes

Find me on Twitter @Specktator100

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