Youth Mental Health and Covid-19 Conference: Reflections Part 1

Following our joint conference with the Mental Elf, the Centre for Society & Mental Health and the Policy Institute, panelist Lucy Power reflects on discussions during the first day of the conference, and the impact of Covid-19 for young people in the future.

There is no doubt that COVID-19 has impacted all of our lives. Loneliness, boredom, frustration: these are just a few of the emotions we all might be feeling right now. Emerging research is showing us that young people’s mental health is being affected, and in particular specific vulnerable groups of young people. The Centre for Mental Health has predicted that the increase in demand for services in England resulting from Covid-19 will rise exponentially, predicted to cater to 1.5 million children (which is 15% of the number of all children aged 5-19). [1]

I recently attended the ‘Youth Mental Health and COVID-19’ webinar on Monday 1 March 2021, hosted by the Mental Elf in collaboration with Emerging Minds, the ESRC Centre for Society and Mental Health, and The Policy Institute at King’s College London.

The webinar sought to share a wide range of research findings on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the mental health and wellbeing of children and young people in the UK (with a particular focus one those aged 5-18 years).

Researchers from different organisations and universities came to speak about the research they were conducting into this topic. I attended day one, which explored the question, ‘what is the evidence on the impacts of COVID-19 on the mental health of young people?’.

Cathy Creswell from the University of Oxford chaired the meeting, and we were joined by speakers from NHS digital, the CoSpace study, the RAMP study, the INISS project, the Keeping Cool project, the CoRay project and various other organisations.

One thing that really stood out to me amongst all of these presentations was the repeated finding that the mental health of young girls, between the ages of 5-18, was disproportionately affected by the pandemic.

The presentations also raised important questions that we all need to think about in research, such as, are our samples representative and are there any groups who are being overlooked?; and how are we going to translate research findings into effective interventions? And also more general questions such as, how will parents/teachers/schools play a key role in young people’s wellbeing going forward?

As a young person with lived experience of mental health problems, I was invited along to share my own lived experiences and how these related to the wider discussion.

I was part of the panel, alongside two other young representatives, and I joined a Q&A session at the end of the webinar which aimed to explore more general responses to the research findings presented.

I was asked the question, ‘what do you think the implications of COVID-19 will be on young people’s wellbeing in the future?’, to which I raised the issue of services potentially being overstretched and poor mental health being more likely to appear down the line.

There was a wider discussion about the implications for policy and practice; questions such as, ‘what can schools do to welcome back young people after covid?’ and, ‘how do mental health services need to adapt going forward?’ were raised and this sparked interesting discussion.

I was delighted to take part in the discussion and was grateful that the voices of young people were valued and heard in this discussion. I urge young people to take part in more upcoming research regarding COVID-19 – your voice matters!

You can watch all of the week’s webinars on The Mental Elf’s YouTube channel which can be accessed here: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCTalwlDidEggQOsvCRZzlog.

Images are courtesy of Freya Wilson, a young artist from Fully Focused Productions. You can follow her work on her official Instagram handle @freyaawilson

Footnotes

[1] The Centre for Mental Health, ’Covid-19 and the nation’s mental health: Forecasting needs and risks in the UK’ (October 2020)


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