In light of these findings, RSPH is calling for wider mental health support for young people who may have been and may continue to be adversely affected.

Although young people tend to be less vulnerable to the effects of Covid-19 [1], RSPH’s findings indicate that they are more likely to experience poor mental health and wellbeing under lockdown than older adults. Key findings from the research included that, among nearly 5,000 UK adults surveyed during lockdown:

  • Nearly three in five (58%) 18 to 24 year olds disagreed that the government is doing enough to protect the public’s mental health and wellbeing.
  • Over two in three (70%) 18 to 24 year olds have felt anxious about the future more often than normal (compared with 47% of over 75s).
  • Two in five (38%) 18 to 24 year olds have had good quality sleep less often (compared with 15% of over 75s).
  • 18 to 24 year olds were nearly three times more likely than 65 to 74 year olds to have experienced feeling of loneliness more often than normal (62% compared with 21%).
  • 16% of 18 to 24 year olds have been unable to isolate as much as they would like because of financial concerns (compared with 11% of 55 to 64 year olds).

Alongside these concerning results, the data revealed there have been some positive aspects of the lockdown for young people:

  • The vast majority (85%) of 18 to 24 year olds have connected with people virtually more often.
  • A quarter (25%) of 18 to 24 year olds have volunteered or offered support in their community more often than normal.

Ahead of Mental Health Awareness Week (18 - 24 May 2020), RSPH is calling for more mental health provision and support services for young people to help them cope with the effects of the lockdown and the pandemic.

People under 25 are more likely to be in education or to work in a sector that has been closed, and as the lockdown exit strategy across the UK moves ahead, more people will be asked to return to education and work [2]. For many, the prospect and reality of these changes could add further anxieties and stresses, on top of any physical health risks if they are not managed safely by the Government and employers. Young people must be supported to return safely to employment and education if we are to avoid widening health inequalities in this group.

RSPH would welcome guidance for young people on adapting to the ‘new normal’, including how to look after mental health and wellbeing and retain some of the positives from lockdown. RSPH’s free e-learning programmes on sleep and social media may be beneficial for young people – the charity would like to see more resources to help young people look after their mental health during the crisis.    

Shirley Cramer CBE, Chief Executive of RSPH, said:

“Life under lockdown has been a challenge for all of us, but we are very concerned to see that young people are most vulnerable to experiencing adverse effects on their mental health and wellbeing. Moving from adolescence into young adulthood can be a difficult time for some, and the coronavirus pandemic adds another dimension of stress. We need more support tailored to young people who are struggling in this unique situation if we want to avoid further disadvantaging young people by allowing a mental health crisis to develop as a consequence of lockdown.”  

RSPH is pleased to support Mental Health Awareness Week hosted by the Mental Health Foundation and YoungMinds #BeyondTomorrow campaign, which calls for the Government to take action now to limit the long-term impact of the pandemic on young people’s mental health. 

Dr Antonis Kousoulis, Director for England and Wales at the Mental Health Foundation, said:

“It is troubling but not surprising that the pandemic and lockdown have had a particularly negative impact on young people’s mental health. Their education, relationships and socialising have been severely disrupted and current projections for the economy and the job marketplace will be adding to their stress. We welcome RSPH's call for increased support for young people, which is consistent with the “Kindness” theme and spirit of this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week.”

Emma Thomas, Chief Executive of YoungMinds, said:

“The findings from this research reveal how difficult life has been for many young people under lockdown. The fear of becoming ill or seeing a loved one become ill, the loss of routines, the difficulties of social connection, the impact of loneliness, and the challenges of living in difficult situations are creating additional pressure for young people across the country. For those with existing mental health conditions, this has been a time of increased anxiety, especially if support has been impacted. We hope the Government will take action to limit the long-term impact of the pandemic on young people’s mental health by ensuring there is support and advice available now and as we emerge from the crisis.”

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