Third of young people saw wellbeing boost during lockdown

Pupils who went to school every day most likely to report improved wellbeing.

22 February 2022

A third of young people saw an improvement in their wellbeing during the Covid-19 lockdown measures, according to a new study.

Researchers from Oxford and Cambridge universities found that out of 16,940 children and teenagers aged from between around eight and 18, 33% said they had better mental wellbeing during the first national lockdown.

Young people who said their wellbeing had improved were more likely to report improved relationships with family and friends, reduced feelings of loneliness and exclusion and lower levels of bullying than their peers.

They also said they could manage schoolwork better and had more sleep and exercise during the lockdown.

The survey found that of other respondents, 33% said their mental wellbeing had remained the same in lockdown while 34% said theirs had deteriorated.

Using data collected from the OxWell Student Survey in June and July 2020 from pupils in state schools based in the south of England, the survey found that pupils who attended school every day were most likely to report that their wellbeing had improved, with 39% of pupils who went in “every day” saying they were happier following the lockdown.

For those who attended “most days” 35% reported better wellbeing.

Pupils who attended “sometimes” were the least likely to have seen improved wellbeing (29%) whereas 34% of pupils who did not attend at all felt happier.

The highest proportion of students who reported worse wellbeing were those who attended just once or twice (39%).

The study said that various aspects of the school environment, including bullying, schoolwork stresses and poor relationships with teachers were linked to poor mental health and that it would “therefore be reasonable to expect that being away from the school environment could be beneficial for certain students”.

“However, we found that those attending school ‘most days’ or ‘every day’ (though they made up a small percentage of the total sample) had a higher proportion of students who reported improved mental wellbeing compared with those attending irregularly,” it said.

Pupils who said they did not feel safe at home were less likely to say their wellbeing had got better during lockdown.

The proportion of students who said they were getting along “better” or “much better” with household members than before lockdown was also higher for children who reported better wellbeing (53%) compared with those who said there had been no change (26%) and those who said their wellbeing had worsened (21%).

A similar pattern was seen for getting along with friends (41%, 26%, and 27% respectively).

The researchers also found that for the majority of young people who had been bullied in the past year, they said that the bullying had reduced.

The proportion reporting that they were bullied less than before lockdown was higher for those who reported improved wellbeing (92%) than for those who reported no change (83%) or a deterioration in their wellbeing (81%).

Emma Soneson, a PhD student and Gates Scholar at the Department of Psychiatry, University of Cambridge, said: “The common narrative that the pandemic has had overwhelmingly negative effects on the lives of children and young people might not tell the full story.

“In fact, it seems as though a sizeable number of children and young people may have experienced what they felt was improved wellbeing during the first national lockdown of 2020.

“After hearing from patients in our clinical practice and informally from several parents and young people that they thought the lockdown was beneficial for their or their child’s mental health, we decided to look at this trend.”

Professor Peter Jones, from the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Cambridge, said: “What we’ve seen is a complex mix of factors that affect whether a child’s mental health and wellbeing was affected by the lockdown.

“These range from their mental health before the pandemic through to their relationships with their families and peers, and their attitudes towards school.”

Professor Mina Fazel, from the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Oxford, said: “While the pandemic has undoubtedly had negative consequences for many, it is important to keep in mind that this is not the case for all children and young people.”

“We are interested in how we can learn from this group and determine if some of the changes can be sustained in order to promote better mental health and wellbeing moving forward.”

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