A survey of 969 young people aged 11 – 18 from Northamptonshire shows how young people have found the lockdown experience and how they feel about returning to school.
Young people shared their experiences and ways of coping during lockdown:
- There was a significant drop in wellbeing compared to surveys carried out in previous years
- Young people use baking and gardening as well as streaming channels and video games to fill their time
- The majority have missed friends, learning and even their teachers
- 51% have negative feelings about returning to school
- 26% need support with their wellbeing
The authors recommend that schools and services prepare for an increase in those with mental health difficulties but are also optimistic that the majority have coped well.
Joe Pullen from Youth Works said:
"We were hoping to get 150 responses so we were delighted to get over 950 – this means we can really say the results represent the views of young people in Northamptonshire and will help us all prepare for what is to come."
The survey was carried out by Youth Works – a young peoples' charity based in North Northamptonshire. Many local schools encouraged students to complete the survey.
Young people answered questions about how they had found lockdown and how it had affected their wellbeing. They selected coping methods from a list and cited activities that helped them. They also answered questions about how they felt about returning to school, what they were looking forward to and what would help them most in their return.
67% had found their wellbeing ok, better or much better during lockdown with 33% finding it worse or much worse. Over a quarter found the time difficult. When asked to rate their level of anxiety on the day before the survey 55% of the young people reported 'Low' or 'Very Low' levels of anxiety but over a quarter (27.7%) reported 'High' levels of anxiety.
Dr Siobhan Currie, an educational psychologist who helped with the survey said:
"This result shows much higher levels of anxiety than we are used to dealing with. Schools and services must take a targeted approach and identify those that need more help. Some will have had a very difficult and stressful time with possible bereavements."
Some young people reported that their wellbeing was better at home. One student said:
"Can we just not go back? I've been so much happier since we've been off "
Lots of young people have shown resilience and found helpful ways to spend their time. Although 'video entertainment' was cited as the most common coping strategy, other 'creative hobbies' included baking and gardening.
'I have enjoyed learning from home and being independent and in control, giving myself free time to do new things and having more time to do the things I enjoy (that are educational and worthwhile)".
Cindy Wrighting, CEO and Head Teacher at Youth Works said:
"It would be great if schools encouraged young people to continue to use these coping strategies as they help build resilience and maintain good mental health. The positive comments about different ways of learning during lockdown are also something we should take note of."
Exercise and having a routine were also recognised as useful by young people, showing that messages about looking after your mental and physical health could be getting through. When it comes to going back to school they cited 'maintaining a routine' as most important in helping them to cope.
The survey used a measure of wellbeing from the Office of National Statistics. It was found that wellbeing had dropped significantly when compared to previous years. The 'Children's Wellbeing Measure Study' (2018), found that 79.2% of 10-15 year olds had a 'High' or 'Very High' level of 'Life Satisfaction'. When using the same tool, this report found that only 48.1% of young people indicated that they had a high level of 'Life Satisfaction'., highlighting a significant drop from previous years.
Is this all down to COVID-19? Over a quarter of young people (27.7%) reported a 'Low' level of 'Life Satisfaction' (2020), a significant increase from previous years: 3.8% in 2017, 3.4% in 2016 and 3.3% in 2015. These changes need to be recognised and addressed.
Young people are most looking forward to seeing their friends when they return to school, followed by a return to academic work and then seeing school staff. The authors recommend that relationships are prioritised as this is what young people have missed the most. Enabling contact and connection with one another should increase feelings of happiness and reduce stress. Although video games and phone apps have helped young people stay in touch throughout lockdown, they have really missed seeing people in person. Mental health groups, learning support and careers advice got the most votes for helping them when they return. This seems to be an acknowledgement that they will need extra support.
"Many of my friends have not stopped stressing over the fact that they don't feel the slightest bit of confidence about returning to exams ... Not only that but many of us still don't have a plan for our future and the pandemic hasn't given us any chance to see what jobs we would like in the future".
The government has announced more funding for supporting young people's mental health but will it be enough? Services may not have the staff to deal with this increase and parents may be struggling to know how to help. For now, the majority are coping and some are even learning positive things from this experience but there is a big increase in those needing support. Whether this pandemic has a long term impact on their mental health is down to whether schools and services can provide that support. This survey shows that Northamptonshire schools and services need adequate staff and funding if we are not to store up problems for the future. View survey results