Coronavirus lockdowns are likely to cause mental health issues such as anxiety in children and young people that will last long after restrictions are lifted, researchers have found.
The study by the University of Bath highlighted that those who are lonely in lockdown could be three times more likely to develop depression, and that the impact on mental health could last at least nine years.
The research, published on Monday in the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, draws on more than 60 previous peer-reviewed studies into isolation and mental health in young people.
Dr Maria Loades, a clinical psychologist from the department of psychology at the University of Bath who led the work, said the report is a warning to expect a rise in demand for mental health services for years in countries around the world.
"It's useful to remind ourselves that it's OK for this to feel hard – it's a sign that this context is not OK, that it's not normal for us to be apart in this way," she told The National.
“It’s also important to remember that social distancing and social isolation in the current context really mean physically distancing ourselves from other people to limit the spread of Covid-19.
“Social contact is really important for mental health and for our sense of belonging, purpose and value.”
She added: “Alongside mitigating against loneliness, we can promote mental health in children and young people by encouraging them to be physically active, to have a daily structure including a consistent sleep routine and to keep occupied, doing more of the things that matter to them.”
The study highlighted an association between being lonely and an increased risk of mental health problems for young people, saying that there was evidence that the duration of loneliness may be more important than its intensity in increasing the risk of future depression among young people.
For teachers and policymakers preparing for the phased reopening of schools in the UK, which started on June 1, Dr Loades suggests the research could have important implications now and for years to come
"For our youngest and their return to school from this week, we need to prioritise the importance of play in helping them to reconnect with friends and adjust following this intense period of isolation," she said.
The Abu Dhabi Early Childhood Authority, ECA, has also released new tips for parents to help children positively approach the changes brought by the pandemic.
The advisory said that during the prolonged period of social distancing, children will convey an array of feelings and it was crucial these emotions were not dismissed.
" As a parent, it is your role to support your child’s emotional and social development by providing an abundance of answers and support," an advisory issued by ECA on Monday said.