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Lockdown is putting teenagers at risk of future mental health problems

The coronavirus lockdown could have long-term damaging effects on teenagers’ mental health, leading experts have warned.

Face-to-face social interaction is vital for brain development and building a sense of self between the age of 10 and 24.

University of Cambridge researchers warn depriving young people of this may lead to a host of mental health, behavioural and cognitive problems later in life. 

In an editorial in the Lancet, neuroscientists from the prestigious university called for schools to reopen for young people as a priority to prevent long-term damage.

And despite being blamed for an explosion of mental health problems in recent years, the scientists say social media might actually have been the saving grace for teens during the pandemic.

The ability to interact with friends virtually may have mitigated some of the negative effects of physical distancing, they write. 

It comes after official data found half of under-25s had been affected by ‘lockdown loneliness’. 

The coronavirus lockdown could have long-term damaging effects on teenagers' mental health, leading experts have warned (file)

The coronavirus lockdown could have long-term damaging effects on teenagers’ mental health, leading experts have warned (file)

Most schools have been closed since March 20 and the entire country has been cooped up at home since March 23, when full lockdown was instated.  

A small number of primary school children have returned in England, but only in small groups. 

Almost 8million Brits and HALF of under-25s have been affected by ‘lockdown loneliness’, official data suggests 

The wellbeing of almost 8million Britons was affected by loneliness caused by the government’s coronavirus lockdown, official data suggests.

A survey by the Office for National Statistics of more than 5,500 people suggested 14.3 per cent of the population — or 7.4million people – have suffered loneliness in the past seven days.

Statisticians revealed this group of people, dubbed the ‘lockdown lonely’, tend to be young, single or divorced, and renting. 

Half of those aged 16 to 24 were affected by ‘lockdown loneliness’, according to the survey, compared to just a quarter of those around their 60s. 

Separate findings of the same survey, carried out on 5,000 Brits, revealed 5 per cent were ‘chronically lonely’ and admitted they felt alone ‘often or always’.   

The data from The Opinions and Lifestyle Survey was collected from April 3 to May 3 and involved 5,260 adults. 

Everyone in the survey was asked ‘How often do you feel lonely?’. Five per cent of said they were suffering chronic loneliness, which means they are lonely ‘often or always’ and not just in the past seven days.

This equates to 2.6million people across Great Britain. 

Adolescence – defined by the scientists as between 10 and 24 – is a vulnerable stage in the development of a person.

On top of major hormonal changes and puberty, this is the point at which people want to spend more time with their friends than their family. 

It is also the period in their life when they are most likely to develop mental health problems.

Earlier studies have suggested that high quality relationships with appear to protect people from mental health problems and strengthen their resilience.

Professor Sarah-Jayne Blakemore, from the department of psychology at the University of Cambridge and lead author of the opinion piece, said lockdown could hamper their brain development and have consequences for years to come.

She said: ‘Owing to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, many young people around the world currently have substantially fewer opportunities to interact face-to-face with peers in their social network at a time in their lives when this is crucial for their development.

‘Even if physical distancing measures are temporary, several months represents a large proportion of a young person’s life.

‘We would urge policymakers to give urgent consideration to the well-being of young people at this time.

It means the true effects of a lack of face-to-face contact are unknown. But studies in animals have shown it can lead to anxiety and hyperactive behaviours, the scientists say.

The article, written with Amy Orben, research fellow at Cambridge, and Livia Tomova, from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, calls for more research to be carried out on humans.

They hope some of the negative effects of lockdown have been mitigated by social media and technology.

Seven in 10 of youngsters in the UK aged between 12 and 15 have a social media account or online gaming profile.

Dr Orben said: ‘Some studies have shown that active social-media use, such as messaging or posting directly on another person’s profile, increases well-being and helps maintain personal relationships.

‘However, it has been suggested that passive uses of social media, such as scrolling through newsfeeds, negatively influence wellbeing.’ 

A wealth of studies in recent years have linked spending too much time online to depression, self-harm and suicide in school-aged children.  

It comes after a survey by the Office for National Statistics of more than 5,500 people suggested 14.3 per cent of the population — or 7.4million people – have suffered loneliness in the past seven days. 

Statisticians revealed this group of people, dubbed the ‘lockdown lonely’, tend to be young, single or divorced, and renting.

Half of those aged 16 to 24 were affected by ‘lockdown loneliness’, according to the survey, compared to just a quarter of those around their 60s.

Separate findings of the same survey, carried out on 5,000 Brits, revealed 5 per cent were ‘chronically lonely’ and admitted they felt alone ‘often or always’.

The data from The Opinions and Lifestyle Survey was collected from April 3 to May 3 and involved 5,260 adults.

Everyone in the survey was asked ‘How often do you feel lonely?’. Five per cent of said they were suffering chronic loneliness, which means they are lonely ‘often or always’ and not just in the past seven days.

This equates to 2.6million people across Great Britain.  

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