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Study of impact of COVID-19 pandemic on youth mental health indicates increase in demand for services

Although evidence suggests some decline for some aspects of mental health, such as anxiety and behavioral problems, the overall findings were mixed with no clear pattern.

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on youth mental health may lead to increased demand for mental health services, according to a recent study published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry.

The study is the first to examine research on the mental health of children and youth both before and after the pandemic. According to the study authors, the findings provide new insight into changes in the mental health of young people around the world during the pandemic.

In the study, researchers examined 51 studies that looked at how the pandemic affected young people’s mental health across a range of domains. Importantly, these studies included information on baseline mental health collected before the pandemic rather than relying on retrospective perceptions of change. The demand for rapid research during the pandemic meant that the standard of the studies varied, with only 4 of the studies being classified as high quality.

Although the evidence suggested some decline for some aspects of mental health, the overall findings were mixed with no clear pattern. There were mixed findings from studies that measured the same type of mental health problems in different ways, suggesting that the effects of the pandemic were not universal and depended on the circumstances and contexts of children, youth and their families. However, the overall effect is large enough to result in an increased demand for services, according to the study.

“The pandemic has affected the lives of children and young people worldwide, and we’ve heard a lot of talk about the impact on mental health,” study author Tamsin Newlove-Delgado, PhD, said in a press release. “Our review of the research in the field provides further evidence that already stretched services are likely to see an increase in demand, but that things may not be as bad for everyone as some headlines make them appear.”

The review found evidence of deterioration across a range of broader measures of mental health, such as an increase in overall problems with behaviour, emotions or anxiety, as well as finding multiple studies reporting no change and a few reporting improvement in mental health.

Importantly, however, research in this area is notoriously difficult to interpret because developmental mental health problems become more common in adolescence than childhood. This makes it difficult to determine to what extent the negative impacts found are the result of children in the studies getting older or are actually related to the pandemic.

“Studying the whole population of children and young people means that our research may not be picking up differences between groups that may have fared better or worse during the pandemic,” said co-author Tamsin Ford, CBE, FRCPsych, FMedSci, in the press said. release. “For example, other research has found that some children and young people reported sleeping and eating better during lockdowns or that it was easier to access remote schooling as they could work at their own pace. Others struggled with a lack of structure or a lack of access to remote schooling or peers.”


First pandemic young people’s mental health review says demand for service to rise. News release. University of Exeter. news release; 24 November 2022. Accessed 30 November 2022. https://www.exeter.ac.uk/news/research/title_944596_en.html

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