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.
- adolescent health
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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 https://osf.io/ajy57.
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