Article Text

Longitudinal increases in childhood depression symptoms during the COVID-19 lockdown
  1. Giacomo Bignardi,
  2. Edwin S Dalmaijer,
  3. Alexander L Anwyl-Irvine,
  4. Tess A Smith,
  5. Roma Siugzdaite,
  6. Stepheni Uh,
  7. Duncan E Astle
  1. MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Duncan E Astle, MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit, Cambridge CB2 7EF, UK; Duncan.Astle{at}


Objective There has been widespread concern that so-called lockdown measures, including social distancing and school closures, could negatively impact children’s mental health. However, there has been little direct evidence of any association due to the paucity of longitudinal studies reporting mental health before and during the lockdown. This present study provides the first longitudinal examination of changes in childhood mental health, a key component of an urgently needed evidence base that can inform policy and practice surrounding the continuing response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Methods Mental health assessments on 168 children (aged 7.6–11.6 years) were taken before and during the UK lockdown (April–June 2020). Assessments included self-reports, caregiver reports, and teacher reports. Mean mental health scores before and during the UK lockdown were compared using mixed linear models.

Results A significant increase in depression symptoms during the UK lockdown was observed, as measured by the Revised Child Anxiety and Depression Scale (RCADS) short form. CIs suggest a medium-to-large effect size. There were no significant changes in the RCADS anxiety subscale and Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire emotional problems subscale.

Conclusions During the UK lockdown, children’s depression symptoms have increased substantially, relative to before lockdown. The scale of this effect has direct relevance for the continuation of different elements of lockdown policy, such as complete or partial school closures. This early evidence for the direct impact of lockdown must now be combined with larger scale epidemiological studies that establish which children are most at risk and tracks their future recovery.

  • psychology
  • adolescent health

This is an open access article distributed in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 Unported (CC BY 4.0) license, which permits others to copy, redistribute, remix, transform and build upon this work for any purpose, provided the original work is properly cited, a link to the licence is given, and indication of whether changes were made. See:

View Full Text

Statistics from

Supplementary materials


  • Twitter @BignardiG, @esdalmaijer, @AlexanderIrvine, @RSiugzdaite, @DuncanAstle

  • Contributors GB conceptualised and designed the study, collected the data, drafted the initial manuscript, carried out the statistical analysis, and reviewed and revised the manuscript. DEA conceptualised and designed the study, drafted the initial manuscript, supervised the study, obtained funding, and reviewed and revised the manuscript. ESD conceptualised and designed the study, collected the data, supervised the study, and reviewed and revised the manuscript. RS, ALA-I, TAS and SU conceptualised and designed the study, collected the data, and reviewed and revised the manuscript.

  • Funding This study was supported by grant TWCF0159 from the Templeton World Charity Foundation to DA and by the UK Medical Research Council (MC-A0606-5PQ41). SU was supported by the Gates Cambridge Trust.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent for publication Not required.

  • Ethics approval The study protocol was approved by the University of Cambridge Psychology Research Ethics Committee (PRE.2017.102).

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Data availability statement Data are available on reasonable request. Ninety-six per cent of the participants gave consent for their data to be shared on the condition that researchers applying for access have the appropriate ethical permission. Requests for data access should be sent to the corresponding author. Analysis code and R output are available from

Request Permissions

If you wish to reuse any or all of this article please use the link below which will take you to the Copyright Clearance Center’s RightsLink service. You will be able to get a quick price and instant permission to reuse the content in many different ways.