The Australian Human Rights Commission has released a report exploring the mental health impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and related restrictions on children and young people.
The report includes the results from a survey of 4,559 children aged 9-17 years and 2,796 parents, guardians and grandparents. Children across Australia experienced the pandemic in different ways, with 41% reporting the pandemic had a negative impact on their wellbeing at the time of the survey in early 2022. One in five reported that they were feeling more down, scared or worried than they used to.
A lack of social engagement and contact with extended family and their friends was a key concern for children. Many also struggled with remote learning.
Around one in five children said that they needed more support for their mental health and wellbeing over the last two years.
The survey did not directly ask children and young people about mental illness or suicidal thoughts or behaviours, but these topics did emerge in some of the free text responses from children and their families. According to data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics National Study of Mental Health and Wellbeing, almost two in five young people aged 16-24 years had experienced the symptoms of a mental disorder in the past 12 months.
The Australian Human Rights Commission project was one of ten funded by the National Mental Health Commission to investigate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on different communities in Australia. The United Nations identified children and adolescents as a priority group early in the pandemic, calling for tailored attention to their mental health.
“Children and young people as a group have been subject to multiple restrictions as a result of the pandemic – their ability to attend school, move around their communities, spend time with friends and extended family members have all been constrained at different times since early 2020,” said Anne Hollonds, National Children’s Commissioner, Australian Human Rights Commission as stated in the introduction of the report.
Based on the children and families’ responses, eight recommendations were made including that Australian governments work together to fund and implement the National Children’s Mental Health and Wellbeing Strategy. Children seek more awareness and understanding of mental health, and integrated support systems that align with their daily lives (including through schools), and services that are accessible, affordable, inclusive and designed to meet their needs.