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One in Three Young People Say They Were Happier During COVID-19 Lockdown

The mental impact of the pandemic has been a big topic since the lockdowns began nearly two years ago, but a new study is showing some surprising results: One in three young people say they were actually happier during lockdown than before the pandemic began.

Researchers from the University of Cambridge conducted the study to determine how lockdown had effected teens and adolescents. They found that many felt less lonely, were able to avoid bullying, got more sleep and exercise, and improved their overall mental health while staying at home due to COVID-19 health mandates.

“The common narrative that the pandemic has had overwhelmingly negative effects on the lives of children and young people might not tell the full story,” wrote PhD student and study author Emma Soneson. “In fact, it seems as though a sizeable number of children and young people may have experienced what they felt was improved wellbeing during the first national lockdown of 2020.”

The researchers studied more than 17,000 students across the United Kingdom between 8- and 18-years-old. Participants were asked about their experiences during the pandemic, including school, home life and relationships, and one-third felt as if their mental health improved significantly during lockdown. (It is important to keep in mind students who felt better in lockdown were also more likely to report positive lockdown experiences with school, home, relationships and lifestyle.)
Students claimed their relationships with friends and family improved due to increased use of digital forms of social interaction. Social media apps, in particular TikTok, exploded in popularity during lockdown. Trends of making whipped coffee or easy pasta created a sense of camaraderie to people who felt alone for the first time in their lives. While there are sure to be lasting issues from having primarily digital interactions over face-to-face interactions, technology was able to provide a sense of community when the world needed it most.

Additionally, with many parents working from home more, there was more opportunity to increase family relationships and spend more time with loved ones. Specifically, a majority of young people who had been bullied over the past year reported fewer incidents during lockdown, likely because they were able to stay safe at home and away from bullies.

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The study also found that having more autonomy over their schedule led students to better management over their schoolwork and allowed them to have a more balanced schedule for sleep and exercise. Nearly half (49%) of those with improved mental well-being reported sleeping more, compared with 30 and 19 percent who experienced no change or a negative impact, respectively.

“While the pandemic has undoubtedly had negative consequences for many, it is important to keep in mind that this is not the case for all children and young people,” said Professor Mina Fazel. “We are interested in how we can learn from this group and determine if some of the changes can be sustained in order to promote better mental health and wellbeing moving forward.”

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