Generation Covid: How coronavirus lockdown has impacted UK children's mental health

Composite Generation Covid Tonight
Childline has seen a 37 per cent rise in the number of children aged 11 and under contacting them for mental and emotional health issues. Credit: PA

The worrying consequences of the coronavirus pandemic on children's mental health have been laid bare in ITV's Tonight programme 'Generation Covid: Our Children in Crisis?'

Childline - perhaps the country’s best-known service for children who need support - told Tonight it had been inundated with calls since lockdown began.

It fuels concerns that Covid-19, and the fallout from it, could spark the biggest mental health crisis for children and young people in a generation.

The charity has seen a 37 per cent rise in the number of children aged 11 and under contacting them for mental and emotional health issues during lockdown restrictions.

The service has warned about Covid's long term impact on young people's mental health. Credit: Tonight

And worries about what’s happening in the world have increased by more than 150 per cent.

The nature of these concerns ranged from fears to whether high profile people who had caught the virus would survive, to the rising death toll. 

They also included concerns about government responses to the crisis and the longer financial and economic impact.

'I used to have a happy life, but now everything's gone wrong': Tonight speaks to primary school children about their experiences of the pandemic

An eight-year-old told Childline: "I am worried that there will be a second wave of coronavirus and a second lockdown. 

"Mum and dad keep telling me not to worry and that they will keep me safe but I can’t stop worrying when I see people protesting and getting too close to each other in public places."

One 17-year-old's experience is described as "quite typical" of the concerns Childline has been dealing with. 

They said: "I am feeling depressed due to this whole self-isolation.  I can't see my friends or do things I love to do and it's very isolating.  I know it's for my own safety but my mental health has got a lot worse since lockdown. 

"My friends haven't really been speaking to me as much and they are usually the people who get me through my dark times.  Now they aren’t there for me, I just can't cope."

Experiences shared by those getting in touch included feeling low, panic attacks, anxiety, stress, eating problems, self harming, suicidal thoughts, not sleeping and feeling lonely and isolated.

The NSPCC recently joined 150 charities and organisations to call on the Prime Minister and the Chancellor to put children on a par with health and the economy when it comes to recovery.

Figures from the University of Oxford, shared exclusively with the Tonight programme, also suggest children are anxious about the pandemic. 

Researchers have been surveying more than 10,000 parents since the beginning of lockdown.

Of those, 30 per cent say their children are concerned about missed learning, 30 per cent say they are worried about catching the virus, and 16 per cent say their children are now afraid to leave the house.

Parents are also reporting that behaviour is getting worse and more than half say they are now stressed about their children’s wellbeing.

Child psychologist Laverne Antrobus has advice for parents on how to talk to children about the pandemic

Headteacher at Cooper Perry Primary School in Staffordshire, Emily Proffitt, told Tonight that she too had noticed a change in some of the children who have now returned to school.  

Some children were now showing "less respect towards teachers" and some were "extremely withdrawn" and "scared of touching things".

Ms Proffitt said: "It's heart-breaking if I'm honest.

The shutting down of society amid lockdown has impacted children and adults alike. Credit: Tonight

"We've seen children that we've known and nurtured for years, who want to succeed in life...and they've come back into school and displayed such different characteristics for the children that we know."

Children's Commissioner for England, Anne Longfield, is calling on the government to do more.

She told Tonight: "I do think that children, as is so very often is the case, have been in many cases overlooked.

 "It would just be a tragedy if in five years time we look back and see a generation of kids that actually we allowed to fall out of society, that we didn't give that support to.

"And that’s the danger call that everyone should focus on."

The government has pledged a £1bn 'Covid catch-up fund' for pupils in England's schools. That's approximately £80 per head.

Watch ‘Generation Covid: Our Children in Crisis? Tonight’, 7.30pm on Thursday 16 July on ITV and the ITV Hub

Quotes are created from real Childline service users but are not necessarily direct quotes from the young person. All names and potentially identifying details have been changed to protect the identity of the child or young person. Children can call a Childline counsellor on 0800 111 or send a message on their website.

If adults are worried about children they can get advice from NSPCC practitioners on 0808 800 5000 or