Children’s mental health in a time of lock down

Supporting young people during pandemic

New research seeks to tackle the impact of COVID-19 on young people's mental health 

Oxford University's departments of Psychiatry and Experimental Psychology are conducting research into young people’s mental health throughout the COVID-19 crisis to identify what advice, support and help can actually protect their mental health.

What can actually help and protect mental health?

The pandemic has caused major disruptions to families’ lives, through social distancing, school closures, and now effective lock-down. In response to this, a new research survey, launched today at the University of Oxford, will track children and young people’s mental health throughout the COVID-19 crisis. The aim is to identify what advice, support and help can actually protect their mental health.

"...what support could make all the difference to children"

COVID-19 presents a rapidly changing situation where different pressures, including changes to children and young people’s social lives, daily routines, and access to education as well as challenges associated with families spending extended periods at home, will arise for children, young people and their families over time.

Professor Cathy Creswell, Oxford UniversityProfessor Cathy Creswell (pictured), Departments of Psychiatry and Experimental Psychology, University of Oxford, said, ‘Research has provided valuable information about how parents and carers can support their children’s mental health in general. However, at this point, we know very little about what might be most effective in the current context of COVID-19. We hope to have more than 10,000 parents and carers across the UK complete the new online survey. Their responses will help us really understand how families are coping and what support could make all the difference to children, young people and their families at this time.’

Co-SPACE Survey

This survey, called Co-SPACE (COVID-19 Supporting Parents, Adolescents, and Children in Epidemics), aims to track children and young people’s mental health throughout the COVID-19 crisis. Survey results will help researchers identify what protects children and young people from deteriorating mental health, over time, and at particular stress points, and how this may vary according to child and family characteristics. It also aims to identify what advice, support and help parents would find most useful. Parents/carers will be invited to complete an online longitudinal weekly questionnaire for a month, then fortnightly for a month, and then monthly until schools reopen.

Emerging minds

The first survey will take about half an hour, and subsequent surveys about 15-20 minutes. Parents/carers will be asked to answer questions about family life and relationships, overall health and wellbeing, parenting, psychological symptoms and how they and their child are coping during the Covid-19 pandemic. Regular summaries of key findings will be made available via the UKRI research network website throughout the study and will be shared directly with partner organisations in health and education services and the community and voluntary sector, to inform the development of effective support for children, young people and families.

This research is supported by the NIHR Oxford Health Biomedical Research Centre, the Oxford and Thames Valley NIHR Applied Research Consortium and the UKRI Emerging Minds Network Plus.

Is lock-down an opportunity for lifestyle changes?

Total Health asked Professor Christos Kouimtsidis, a consultant psychiatrist and one of Europe's leading experts in treating addictions and alcoholism, what the impact of self-isolation will be on those families affected by excess alcohol or addiction? Rather than looking at the perhaps more obvious negatives, he suggested that this could also actually be the opportunity families seek in order to help bring about required lifestyle changes while supporting each other - at enforced close-range.

He says, "Staying indoors or self-isolation is a common challenge for all members of the household and could provide the opportunity to explore new activities and lifestyle changes that would be necessary anyway to develop and maintain abstinence or modified levels of drinking. It [the lifestyle objective] is shared and therefore potentially more easily achieved". Furthermore, Prof Kouimtsidis goes onto say, "Staying indoors provides the perfect opportunity to avoid high risk social situations". In context of dealing with other members of the family he explains that, "Staying indoors provides the chance to try coping with 'internal high risk situations' such as recognising difficult emotions". As ever in life, we cannot always avoid difficult or challenging situations, but we can try to change the way in which we react and deal with them.

Many individuals will be using the lock-down as an opportunity for some self-improvement around reading, learning or practicing meditation, mindfulness and yoga, for example. The bigger challenge will be in extending this opportunity to understanding each other.

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