The Impact of School Closures on the Mental Health of Young People

With schools being shut once again, the mental well-being of a generation of young people has never been more important. In light of this, we are stepping up our efforts to maintain meaningful contact with programme participants.

For our young people these teenage years are formative. As Sarah-Jayne Blackmore’s research shows, adolescence is an important, distinct biological period of development in its own right, in all cultures. Therefore being forcibly isolated from your peers and locked in with your parents is mental torture for many adolescents. It also means they are missing a crucial developmental stage - like missing out on starting to walk or learning those first words. Think about how a toddler would react if you told them they couldn’t play with their toys and assume adolescents feel similarly about not seeing their peers. Where the homes they are locked in are chaotic, overcrowded or violent, the impact of this on their mental health and long term development will only be more pronounced.

Perhaps unconsciously, for our young people, school provides structure and routine that is highly important. With schools closed again, the structure and routine now lays within the context of their family home through online learning. The variability in what schools have been able to offer in terms of online learning, alongside the digital divide, has meant that not all children and young people have been receiving the same quality, or quantity, of education.

The majority of young people have also not been able to access meaningful contact to their school teachers. With only ‘27% had had a one-to-one conversation with a teacher or another member of staff' in which they were asked about their wellbeing’.  (Young Minds)The focus of teachers has rightly been on catching young people up on what they’ve missed. Which is why alternative support is crucial in providing the ‘safe’ spaces and role models for young people. 

It’s important to recognise that the pandemic also threatens the mental health of young people across the country, as well as their education. The link between mental health struggles and barriers to attainment has been established.  As exemplified in the Young Minds survey which found '69% of respondents described their mental health as poor upon their return to school'; this has risen from 58% who described their mental health as poor before returning to school.

This is why we are making every effort to maintain meaningful contact with our young people, every week. Our work continues to be shaped by therapeutic practice which seeks to develop long-term trusting relationships built on emotional investment in an adolescent's life. This can create the positive and necessary change needed to create a successful transition into adulthood. 

We do this through: 

1) Creating a collaborative Referral Systems - Triangulating through child, parent and school

2)  Long Term Engagement - Working through a school year with a young person as opposed to short term interventions of 6 sessions

3) Culturally competent practitioners - who are both representative of our participants but also conscious of the cultural context the young person exists within

This is underpinned by a trauma-informed approach that puts a creative and relational way of working at the forefront through working with a young person's assets.

For mental health advice, please visit: 

Give Us A Shout - A free, 24/7 text service 

The Mix - Free information and support for under 25’s in the UK

Kooth – an online service for people aged between 10 and 25 years old in the UK 

Childline – originally a telephone helpline, they now offer email and online chat support to anyone under 19 in the UK 

Talking Zone Wales – online service including webcam and messaging, for people aged from 11 to 17 living in the Newport (South Wales) area

On My Mind  - Information for young people to make informed choices about their mental health and wellbeing.

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