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Call for early mental health support for children during COVID-19

Teacher and young girl in a classroom wearing facemasks

A team of OU researchers which studied children's experience of death anxiety during COVID-19 has called for early mental health support to address the effects on children.

The study: Children and Young People’s death anxiety during the COVID-19 pandemic, which received funding from the OU’s Coronavirus Research Fund.

It was led by Dr Kerry Jones, Lecturer (End of Life Care) in the OU’s Faculty of Wellbeing, Education and Language and Dr Ben Hughes in the Faculty of Health & Wellbeing at the University of Bolton, who worked with external organisations to provide new insights into the impact of COVID-19 on death anxiety experienced by children and young people aged between nine and 16 years old.

The study recommends:

  • Addressing the inconsistency in mental health support available through schools such as introducing fenced funding to commission support in times of crisis.
  • Ensuring local charities and youth clubs which provide early mental health support survive the economic impact of the pandemic
  • Introducing, in the longer term, a national network of early intervention hubs of open-access mental health support in a non-medicalised setting
  • Ensuring that all young people know where and how to access support now and foster integrated pathways between services.

In the study, the children aged 9-11 years were recruited via their primary school and data were collected from their drawings and short narratives and 117 of those aged 11-16 years, responded to a survey and some did online interviews to share their experiences.

The majority of those who took part in the research felt a range of fear and worry responses due to the pandemic.

Some participants have pointed out that a school’s response to the pandemic was not very good in the early stages of the pandemic and they appeared unprepared to support pupils, but they have since begun to train teachers in providing mental health support. This response has been much more positive.

Dr Jones said: “We found doing this research, that there is currently a lack of evidence-based research into the impact of COVID-19 on death anxiety in children and young people.

“Clearly children and young people have been affected on many levels and by death anxiety and other mental health consequences during the pandemic. What we have learnt from these preliminary findings is what needs to be the priority for change and to create a better future for young lives.”

Read more about OU COVID-19 research

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