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This review explores research into previous international disasters and COVID-19, in order to understand their impact on the mental health and wellbeing of children and young people.

This literature review was conducted as a rapid evidence assessment, and examination of the available literature resulted in the findings below.

Main findings

International COVID-19 research revealed that the pandemic and isolation through home confinement has changed children’s behaviour. An increase in symptoms of depression and anxiety, as well as greater behaviour difficulties and worries, have been found. However, some studies also found positive outcomes such as more prosocial behaviour and reflection. 

UK COVID-19 research has suggested that the pandemic is adversely affecting the mental health of children and young people. Child and parent reported questionnaires have both demonstrated children’s COVID-19 related worries. Limited research has suggested that risk factors for children having greater difficulties include poverty, pre-existing mental health difficulties, additional educational needs, and older age.

International disasters research has demonstrated that school aged children that have been exposed to disasters (for example, earthquakes, hurricanes or tornados) often suffer from mental health difficulties. In particular, post-traumatic stress disorder or symptoms, and depression.  Risk factors for greater problems in children included older age, level of exposure, experiencing isolation, parents’ wellbeing and mental health, and children’s pre-existing mental health.

Protective factors that can reduce children and young people’s post-disaster mental health have been found to include well-developed cognitive skills and coping strategies. Community solidarity and social support from parents and peers were also found to be protective. Interventions were often whole school approaches to mental health, and were shown to be successful.  Other interventions such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy were found to reduce post-traumatic stress disorder and depression in children and young people.

Reports

Review of the impact of mass disruption on the wellbeing and mental health of children and young people, and possible therapeutic interventions
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Review of the impact of mass disruption on the wellbeing and mental health of children and young people, and possible therapeutic interventions: summary
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Contact

Schools Research Branch

Telephone: 0300 025 6812

Media

Telephone: 0300 025 8099

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