COVID-19 and Teens: What’s the emotional impact?

After fifteen months, three lockdowns, and complete disruption to daily life, emerging research is revealing the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the mental health of teenagers and young people.

 What are the stats?

A study conducted by YoungMinds found:

  • 67% of those surveyed believed that the pandemic will have a long-term negative effect on their mental health.

Research by the Mental Health Foundation and Swansea University found that the mental health of 13-19-year-olds is under severe pressure. Of the 2395 involved in the study:

  • 27% said they felt ‘nervous, anxious or on edge’ most or nearly all the days of the previous fortnight.
  • 27% of British teenagers surveyed said they felt ‘easily annoyed or irritable’ most or nearly all the days of the previous fortnight.
  • 32% of British teenagers surveyed said they had trouble with sleep most or nearly all the days of the previous fortnight.
  • Across all teenagers surveyed, their rating of their own mental health has worsened, over the course of the pandemic.

Many young people are struggling with increased periods of low mood, anxiety, and worry about the future. Teens may be battling symptoms of social anxiety, health anxiety, depression, and self-harm, as well as OCD and problems sleeping. Students with pre-existing mental health issues may be dealing with a resurgence of symptoms resulting from the pandemic. And those who have never experienced previous mental health problems may find themselves developing symptoms which require treatment.

What’s NICE for teens?

Young people will need support for the impact of COVID-19 on their wellbeing to avoid long-term effects. NICE is the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, and they produce evidence-based guidance and advice regarding the correct treatment pathway for healthcare, including for teens and young people.

CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) is a NICE-recommended talking treatment that can help young people to tackle symptoms such as those described above. In CBT, teens work collaboratively with their therapists to help identify patterns in thinking and behaving which may be fuelling symptoms, to develop strategies in order and to reduce symptoms and to achieve specific focused goals. CBT is a highly acceptable treatment for many young people.

An impressive two thirds of children who have the NICE-recommended interventions for mental health problems will recover.

NICE guidelines to date recommend CBT for the following reasons:

  1. The best evidence-based effectiveness is for CBT for anxiety disorders in children and young people – and this applies to almost all anxiety disorders. The government guidelines recommend that all children with anxiety disorders should be referred for brief CBT with a professionally trained CBT therapist. It is highly effective for teenagers.
  2. There is an evidence base for CBT being helpful in the treatment of self-harm. There is no evidence base for any other treatment (counselling included) for self-harm.
  3. Mild to moderate depression. Unfortunately, the treatment of moderate to severe depression remains difficult. However, the ability to signpost to medical and mental health services when depression becomes more severe plays an important role in helping teenagers and young people to access support from GPs and CAMHS.

How can teens access CBT?

CBT can be accessed in the NHS via a GP referral. However, mental health services have become extremely stretched during the COVID-19 crisis and resources are thin on the ground. MIND reported that in April 2020, one in four young people were unable to access the mental health support they needed.

At CBT Networks we provide an independent service for young people aged 14 or over. An initial telephone discussion with a parent or guardian, is followed by an initial assessment appointment to allow teenagers to meet their therapist and to explore whether CBT can be helpful for them. CBT sessions are currently via Zoom or Skype. Remote sessions are highly acceptable to most teenagers and the evidence is that video treatments are at least as effective as face-to-face sessions.

Recommended reading and online resources

‘Living Life to the Full for Young People’ developed by Professor Chris Williams is aimed at high school students and is adapted to suit the common emotional problems encountered in this age group using CBT techniques. Other helpful self-help guides for teens in this series include Why Do I Feel So Bad?’, ‘I’m Not Good Enough’, ‘10 Things You Can Do To Feel Happier Straight Away’, and more. Children and young people | LLTTF Shop

The Charlie Waller Institute website provide free guides and workbooks for professionals, parents, young people, and others interested in mental and emotional wellbeing. Free practical mental health resources | Charlie Waller Trust

YoungMinds – children and young people’s mental health charity

Dr Sian Thrasher is a Consultant Clinical Psychologist with an independent clinic in North Oxfordshire. She and her team provide CBT treatment for anxiety disorders and self-harm in young people. Contact us directly for an informal chat by telephoning us on 01608 737614 or by emailing:

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