The UK government is facing calls to establish a well-being fund for schools to address a rise in mental health issues exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic.
Research that monitored the experiences of young people in England at the ages of 11, 14 and 17 was carried out by the Education Policy Institute (EPI) and the Prince’s Trust over a period of two years, and also drew on data from the Millennium Cohort study by University College London.
The research found that while mental well-being declined for all groups included in the sample as they got older, this experience was particularly common with teenage girls, who were more susceptible to anxieties about their physical appearance.
The report identified the pandemic’s role in widening social inequalities, an over-use of social media, being bullied, and a lack of physical exercise as having a detrimental impact on young people’s mental health.
Whitney Crenna-Jennings, the lead author of the report and a senior researcher at EPI, said in a statement: “Young people already face significant challenges at this stage in their lives, but this generation have also had to deal with a pandemic that will have starved them of the vital relationships and experiences needed to support their journey through adolescence.”
She added: “The government has provided extra academic support for pupils but there is now a compelling case for it to consider emergency funding to support young people’s mental health and well-being. If we fail to counter the ill effects of this crisis on young people’s health and development, there is a real risk that it inflicts irreversible damage on their later life chances.”
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With most children and young people forced to study remotely due to lockdown measures against the pandemic, the government is having to address concerns over their continued isolation, lack of socialising, and quality of learning.
Last summer, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson announced plans to give additional “catch-up” subsidies of £650m to help schools in England cover the cost of Covid-19, including, for instance, that spent on extra tutoring or technologies to facilitate remote lessons. However, the EPI report recommended that there should also be extra funding specifically for mental health provision.