30% of young people had poor mental health during first UK lockdown - new study


Young person studying online

Almost a third of young people in the UK experienced poor mental health during the first COVID-19 lockdown, according to new research.

The study, called CCopeY, found that young Black people, in particular, faced higher odds of having poor mental health. And more than 1 in 10 young people were self-harming to cope.

Previous research from 2014 found 17% of young people in the UK had poor mental health, suggesting that the lockdown has had a detrimental effect on young people’s mental health, which is supported by other studies. 

Led by Imperial’s Institute of Global Health Innovation (IGHI), the project explored the impact of COVID-19 on the mental health and coping strategies of people in the UK aged 16-24. The study involved surveying almost 650 young people to understand their experiences during the first UK lockdown which began on 23 March 2020. CCopeY is the first study of its kind to carry out research on this issue in partnership with young people. 

"Our study shows that working together with young people with lived experience, as research partners, is possible during lockdown, despite the face-to-face restrictions." Dr Lindsay Dewa Advanced Research Fellow, IGHI

The study identified positive coping strategies that young people have benefitted from, such as establishing a daily routine, having good sleep and using mindfulness and meditation. The research could also help shape future mental health services for young people, who expressed the need for more digital mental health tools, online peer support and practical help for transitioning out of lockdown. 

“Our study shows that working together with young people with lived experience, as research partners, is possible during lockdown, despite the face-to-face restrictions. It offers important insight into young people’s mental health during the pandemic and how lockdown may have negatively impacted their wellbeing," said Dr Lindsay Dewa, study lead and Advanced Research Fellow at IGHI. 

"But it has also highlights the changes young people can benefit from, such as using online peer support, digital support sessions in schools and universities and sharing positive coping strategies.” 

The findings, recently published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, showed that young people used a range of methods to cope with lockdown. Eating-related coping strategies and using distraction were common, but those who had poor mental health tended to self-blame, disengage and use substances to cope. However, many young people developed helpful coping strategies, which could be beneficial to others of a similar age.

Most participants felt that ‘protective factors’ were important for their wellbeing. For example, characteristics in individuals, families or communities, such as supportive relationships, and knowing everyone was in a similar situation were found to be crucial to coping during lockdown.

Young people, who had accessed mental health support before the first lockdown, voiced the need for shorter waiting lists and greater investment in services. Several also highlighted negative experiences, in particular a lack of understanding from clinicians.

Working together with young people 

Current research shows 75% of all mental health conditions begin before the age of 24. While young people are at lower risk of serious ill health from coronavirus, social distancing has had significant implications on their lives. Changes, due to lockdown, have meant young people are likely to experience adverse mental health consequences, both during and after social distancing measures have been lifted.    

To address this, Dr Dewa, along with researchers from Imperial’s IGHI, School of Public Health and Division of Psychiatry, designed a survey with the three young co-researchers to understand how 16-24-year-olds in the UK were coping with their mental health during the first lockdown.

641 people completed the survey, 18 of whom were interviewed to find out more about their coping methods, experiences of accessing support and suggestions for improvement.

The young people who helped conduct CCopeY were equal research partners and were involved in all steps of the study, including decision-making, conducting data collection and analysis and as co-authors on the academic paper.

“With everything going on in the world over the past year, it has been such an enlightening and rewarding experience to be a part of this project as a co-researcher,” said young co-researcher, Caroline Crandell. “It was certainly challenging collecting data during a pandemic, but it was a joy to work with everyone on the team and understand how other young people have been coping during these challenging times.”

Building a wider picture

Although the CCopeY study provides a picture of young people’s experience in the first UK lockdown, further understanding is needed of 16-24-year-olds’ mental health throughout the pandemic. As a result, Dr Dewa has conducted a further study of young people’s mental health from April to October 2020. Findings from this research, known as CCopeY 2, are currently being analysed.

The team are also comparing young people’s wellbeing between the first UK national lockdown and the current one in CCopeY 3. They hope this will provide a better insight into how young people have been affected throughout COVID-19.

Read the paper ‘CCopeY: A Mixed-Methods Coproduced Study on the Mental Health Status and Coping Strategies of Young People During COVID-19 UK Lockdown’ here.

Hear Dr Dewa speak about CCopeY at our upcoming event on 25 March: 'Co-produced online symposium: COVID-19’s impact on youth mental health'. Find out more here.


Nikita Rathod

Nikita Rathod
Communications Division

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Email: press.office@imperial.ac.uk
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