Many British Teenagers Feeling Anxious, Alone and Fearful in the Pandemic: new mental health research

23rd Nov 2020
Young people

According to research by the Mental Health Foundation and Swansea University, the vast majority of British teenagers fear the pandemic will make the future worse for people their age.

  • Nearly seven in 10 (68%) British teenagers surveyed say the pandemic will make the future worse for people their age
  • Half of the British teenagers (50%) surveyed say they have been unable to stop worrying at times during the two weeks before the survey
  • Almost six in ten (58%) British teenagers surveyed have felt they have had no one to talk to ‘some of the time or ‘often’ during the pandemic
  • More than two-thirds (69%) of British teenagers have felt alone during the pandemic, ‘some of the time’ or ‘often’
  • Two-thirds (66%) of British teenagers surveyed have worried the pandemic would affect their mental/emotional wellbeing

According to research by the Mental Health Foundation and Swansea University, the vast majority of (68%) British teenagers fear the pandemic will make the future worse for people their age. 

The new study involved 2,375 British teenagers aged 13 to 19. 

Half (50%) of those surveyed said they had not been able to stop or control their worrying at times during the two weeks before the survey. One-fifth (21%) said they had had uncontrollable worries on ‘more than half the days’ (11%) or ‘nearly every day’ (10%). 

Almost six in ten (58%) of those surveyed said they have felt they had no one to talk to during the pandemic. Nearly half (45%) said they felt this ‘some of the time’ and 13% ‘often’.   

More than two-thirds of teenagers (69%) surveyed said they had felt alone at some point during the pandemic – ‘some of the time’ (53%) or ‘often’ (16%).

The survey also found that two-thirds (66%) of British teenagers surveyed have worried that the pandemic would affect their mental health.

The research was done by the Mental Health Foundation in partnership with Swansea University, MQ Mental Health Research and Leaders Unlocked.

“Our research shows high levels of anxiety among teenagers about how the pandemic will affect their futures and their mental health,” said Catherine Seymour, Head of Research at the Mental Health Foundation. 

“Teenagers’ fears for the future may weaken their confidence and hope for themselves at a crucial and already difficult time of their lives. Their sense of a bleaker future may also make it harder for them to cope emotionally.

“I am especially concerned about the young people who say they often feel alone or with no one to talk to because we know that connecting with others is a critically important way to cope with difficult experiences.”

The survey was done between 24th August and 8th September. 

Professor Ann John of Swansea University said: “The pandemic has disrupted the lives of millions of British teenagers. As our survey shows, many are worried about their mental well-being and the future. Over two-thirds have felt alone. 

“Prioritising the mental health of teenagers throughout the Covid-19 pandemic and beyond is critical. That is why we need to take action now, making sure support is available for those who need it while guaranteeing access and enabling transitions to training, education and employment. 

“Only through being proactive can we ensure the pandemic does not have long-lasting consequences.”

Pessimism increases fairly steadily with age. The survey found: that 57% of 13-year-olds surveyed said life would be worse for their age group, to 78% of 19-year-olds. 

One teenager involved in the study said: “At this point, I’m just exhausted. Luckily, I have some financial support from my parents, but they also rely on me sometimes, and it’s like: ‘what am I supposed to do when I’m supposed to help my siblings in the morning when I can’t even find a job?’ I’m not that hopeful in terms of a career.”

Another teenager involved in the study told researchers: “We used to think about loneliness in old people but actually young people can be really lonely … I know a lot of people who live at home with their families and have siblings but still feel lonely because they’re not the same age and can’t connect … I have so many friends who have care responsibilities at home, and that’s a really lonely time.”

Lea Milligan, Chief Executive of MQ, said: “This study of young people’s mental health highlights the urgent need for better understanding and treatments of mental health conditions. 75% of life-long mental health conditions manifest before 18, and the COVID-19 pandemic will only worsen this. 

“We are calling on the UK government to include mental health research in their COVID response, as well as future strategies and spending reviews so that the generation who will be most impacted can have a brighter future.” 

All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. The total sample size was 2,375 people aged 13-19 years. Fieldwork was undertaken between 24th August - 8th September 2020. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and represent all GB Teenagers (aged 13-19 years).

Notes to Editors

To arrange an interview with an expert involved in this study, please contact [email protected]

With funding from MQ, the Mental Health Foundation and Swansea University are leading this longitudinal study of adolescents (people aged 13-19) across Great Britain. The study uses repeated cross-sectional surveys via YouGov. Survey participants are different on each sampling occasion but taken from the same pool and always represent the GB population. The survey covers approximately 20 topics, including the pandemic’s impact on mental health and the key drivers of risk. Ethical approval has been obtained from Swansea University’s Research Ethics Committee.

The Mental Health Foundation: Our vision is for good mental health for all. The Mental Health Foundation works to prevent mental health problems. We will drive change towards a mentally healthy society for all and support communities, families and individuals to lead mentally healthy lives with a particular focus on those at greatest risk. The Foundation is the home of Mental Health Awareness Week and has developed a dedicated Covid19 resources hub that includes advice aimed at young people.

MQ Mental Health Research is the biggest charity that exclusively funds research into mental health conditions, their causes and treatments. The Adolescent Data Platform (ADP) facilitated by MQ aims to improve the speed and effectiveness of research into young people's mental health. It brings together data from different sources and is the biggest platform of its kind. It helps to connect researchers from different fields, reduce the cost and time involved in accessing information and address the significant gap in research about young people's mental health.

Leaders Unlocked is an organisation that enables young people and underrepresented groups to have a stronger voice on the issues that affect their lives. In education, health, policing, justice and elsewhere, it helps organisations to involve the people who matter and to shape decision-making for the better.

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