Brain Sciences


The Emerging Evidence series explores the impact of coronavirus on young people’s mental health

30 June 2020

New research from UCL and the Evidence Based Practice Unit at the Anna Freud Centre finds the nature and duration of the pandemic and lockdown are having significant impacts on young people’s mental health.

toddler and mother

While many are enjoying time at home with their families, research suggests that for some young people the pandemic is contributing to the onset and exacerbation of worry, fear, anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress.

The evidence suggests that some children may be more vulnerable to the mental health impacts of the pandemic, including those with pre-existing mental health and neurodevelopmental conditions, as well as children in homes where domestic violence is a concern and children and young people are living in poverty.

Children from minority ethnic groups are more likely to experience poor health outcomes and, therefore, are more likely to experience mental health difficulties during the pandemic.

These findings from Emerging Evidence, a series of rapid reviews to search for evidence from around the world during the current coronavirus pandemic, indicate that the coronavirus is amplifying the inequalities associated with social determinants of mental and physical health.

Professor Jess Deighton from the Division of Psychology and Language Sciences and Director of Innovation, Evaluation and Dissemination at the Anna Freud Centre, said: “We are concerned about the potential impact of the coronavirus pandemic on children’s mental health. Researchers are trying to use existing evidence to understand what this potential impact is and how best to support young people at this time, but the conditions are so unusual that it is hard to find past research that feels relevant enough to the current context.

“While the evidence reviewed suggests that the scale of the challenge is great, we are encouraged by positive findings of opportunities to build stronger family bonds and relationships, the vigorous response of professionals, and the growing pool of shared learning and resources as communities mobilise to support young people’s mental health.”

The report includes recommendations for parents and carers, professionals and the wider community including the importance of monitoring the impact of the pandemic on children and young people’s mental health; and the need for those who are supporting young people to prioritise their wellbeing.

It also calls for a more joined-up approach between all those with a role to play in supporting children and young people – from families and communities to health services and schools.

“Meaningfully engaging with young people’s voices is crucial when it comes to research and involving them in conversations and decision-making about their care during this difficult time can be seen as an extension of the social responsibility that the pandemic has reminded us of,” said Professor Deighton.