The Impact of Coronavirus on Children's Mental Health

2nd July 2020

These are unprecedented times for all of us, with the barrage of updates regarding COVID-19 and the uncertainty of the current situation, the need to support the wellbeing of children and young vulnerable adults has increased. This disruption to their lives and the changes that have taken place can be difficult for some to understand, children especially have found themselves without any structure or stimulation and their support systems disappearing due to the social distance measures that many countries across the world have implemented.

Children’s Mental Health and Coronavirus

There has been very little said about the effect this virus can have on children’s mental health, with children not being able to leave their homes, they can feel overwhelmed and begin to catastrophise and proactive steps need to be taken to bring a sense of normality.

When we feel anxious or stressed our bodies releases hormones which can make you feel unwell and can lead to long term health issues. As schools begin to open there doors to more students, we need to take steps to look after and support children’s wellbeing and develop their emotional resilience.

There has been a sharp rise in the number of calls to ChildLine from distressed young adolescents struggling to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic and the impact it has had on their lives, with feelings of anxiety, isolation and loss of support that school provided being predominant. Concerns about the coronavirus since the virus was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organisation (WHO) most of the calls received were from 12-15-year olds with common issues of being scared about catching the virus and becoming seriously ill.

Mental Health Charity Young Minds held a survey of 2111 young people with history of mental health between the dates of 20-25/3/2020. Results showed that 83% said that the pandemic had made their mental health worse. Encouragingly 74% are still able to access some form of support albeit it reduced support to online or phone calls, however almost a quarter were no longer accessing any support as it was almost impossible for them to receive support at home.

child calling childline

How We Can Help Support Children’s Mental Health At This Time

It is vital, that each one of us do all that we can to prevent the situation from getting worse, supporting children and young people’s mental health, as well as our own during throughout this period. Children and vulnerable young adults look to people they trust for support during times of anxiety. A person-centred approach is crucial, so we should all work and plan together as well as share decisions, as we all play key roles in these times of uncertainty.

Government advice across the world means most children will be spending time at home, with social activities limited or no longer available. They may feel isolated and this may trigger compulsive thoughts, escalated behaviour or fixations. It is vital we find an alternative focus and surround them with positivity.

ChildLine stated ‘’The 24/7 news about coronavirus and daily routines being disrupted will cause worry and anxiety in young people particularly those who are already coping with many other issues in their lives.’’

Of those children with mental health issues questioned 72% found face to face calls from friends or watching tv or films most helpful in times of anxiety and a further 60% said exercise and 59% found learning new skills most helpful.

Video calls with friends and family can help alleviate loneliness

Areas to think about when looking for ideas to support children with their wellbeing and mental health:

Mental and emotional support can involve setting children tasks such as keeping a journal or writing a letter using motivating words about themselves, writing out their thoughts, moods, and fears. Making a list or talking about positive things that they do, things that make them proud of themselves, or things that they are grateful for. We can influence children and young people to surround themselves with positive thoughts and feelings to build on their confidence and self-esteem.

Try encouraging them to keep to a routine, to offer structure to their day. They can vary the rooms they spend time in and have time marked in for relaxation or for doing activities that they enjoy. Teach them that taking time to self-care is not wasted time. Get them to organise their room so its uncluttered, open windows to let in fresh air, spend time in their garden or on the doorstep. Let them connect with the world around them, by listening to birds or watching the clouds and stars.

It’s also important for children and young people to maintain their own physical care by showering, brushing their teeth, doing their hair, and getting dressed. They can also dedicate time throughout the day where they exercise, take a walk, listen to music and dance. Try to encourage a healthy balanced diet, keeping hydrated and good sleeping patterns.

Explore building relationships with family, friends, and teachers, using varied techniques of staying in touch and talking. Signpost where they can find support, encourage them to ask for support if needed and offer support to others. Ensure that children know who they can turn to for help, someone they feel safe with, what members of staff are available to listen to them. Work closely with your school to agree on best ways to help, speak to mental health teams, communicate regularly and consistently.

Take the pressure off yourself and them, by having fun. Play games, watch movies, take advantage of the free online activities or shows. Learn to bake or try out something new, build a happy place, devise a scavenger hunt, have regular breaks from social media. Keep your days varied and enjoy the family time. The important thing is finding self-care that works for them and you.

Be a positive role model by taking the time to listen, don’t assume that children don’t want to talk, be curious about what’s on their minds. Be aware of how you are acting, stay calm, don’t add pressure to yourself or them. Keep things as normal as possible, keep to routines, talk to them openly about COVID-19 so they trust you to be honest.

Teach people that self care isn't selfish

Some of the signs for stress, anxiety, depression, trauma and grief

This is not an exhaustive list, but below are some signs that we can all look out for.

  • Trauma- feeling anxious, prone to panic attacks, frequent nightmares, disrupted sleep patterns, more distracted, loss of interest in anything and everything
  • Grief- alternating between play and sadness, feelings of anger and frustration, tiredness, mood swings, possible regression and loss of skills, displaying high risk behaviours
  • Stress- feeling tired with difficulty sleeping, prone to headaches, not enjoying food consumption, feeling sad, can be irritable and prone to losing temper, repeatedly playing or drawing about event, overburdened, anxious and nervous, a sense of dread, feelings of loneliness, being tearful, chest pains and feelings of sickness, bed wetting
  • Depression- low mood and lack of motivation, withdrawn, with low self-esteem, tearful, change in eating and sleeping habits
  • Anxiety- socially withdrawn and isolated, nervous and prone to panic attacks, tearful and angry

During this uncertain time, obsession and compulsion can take over children and young people’s lives, especially with the added government advice of washing your hands. try setting time limits for 20 seconds, plan an activity to distract them for straight after hand washing, focus on something new like learning a dance.

Watch out for compulsive behaviours such as handwashing

More Covid-19 Support For Your Safeguarding Team

‘’I was always looking outside myself for strength and confidence, but it comes from within, it is there all the time.’’ (Anna Freud)

We are running fortnightly Covid-19 Safeguarding Support Sessions where a panel of experienced practitioners will answer your questions and discuss experiences from their own settings. Please register for this here.


Written by Adele Barry