Lack of computer access is linked to poorer mental health in young people during the COVID-19 pandemic

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The Cambridge researchers highlighted how lack of access to a computer was linked to poorer mental health in young people and adolescents during the COVID-19 shutdowns.

The team found that the end of 2020 was when young people struggled the most, and that the mental health of those young people without computer access tended to deteriorate more than that of their peers who had access.

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant effect on young people’s mental health, with evidence of increasing levels of anxiety, depression and psychological distress. Adolescence is a time when people are particularly vulnerable to the development of mental health disorders, which can have lasting consequences well into adulthood. In the UK, the mental health of children and young people was already deteriorating before the pandemic, but the proportion of people in this age group likely to suffer from a mental health disorder has fallen from 11% in 2017 to 16. % in July 2020.

The pandemic has led to school closures and an increase in online schooling, the impacts of which have not been felt in the same way. Teens without access to a computer were the most disrupted: In one study, 30% of students in middle-class homes reported taking live or recorded lessons daily, while only 16% of students in middle-class homes worker said they did. .

In addition to school closures, lockdown often meant young people couldn’t meet their friends in person. During these periods, online and digital forms of interaction with peers, such as video games and social media, likely helped reduce the impact of these social disruptions.

Tom Metherell, who at the time of the study was an undergraduate at Cambridge University’s Fitzwilliam College, said: “Access to computers meant many young people could still ‘attend’ school virtually. , continue their studies until a measure and follow his friends. But anyone without access to a computer would have been at a huge disadvantage, which would only reinforce their sense of isolation.

To examine in detail the impact of digital exclusion on the mental health of young people, Metherell and his colleagues examined data from 1,387 young people aged 10 to 15 collected through the Understand society, a large UK-wide longitudinal survey. They focused on access to computers rather than smartphones because much schoolwork is only possible on a computer when at this age most social interactions happen in person at school. school.

The results of their study are published in Scientific reports.

Participants completed a questionnaire that assesses common childhood psychological difficulties, which allowed Understand society team to score them in five domains: hyperactivity/inattention, prosocial behavior, emotional, conduct and peer relationship issues. From there, they derived a “Total Difficulty” score for each individual.

Over the course of the pandemic, researchers noted small changes in the overall mental health of the group, with average Total Difficulty scores increasing from pre-pandemic levels of 10.7 (out of a maximum of 40), peaking at 11.4 at the end of 2020 before declining to 11.1 in March 2021.

Youth who did not have access to a computer saw the greatest increase in their Total Difficulty scores. While the two groups of young people had similar scores at the start of the pandemic, when modeled with adjustment for socio-demographic factors, those who did not have access to a computer saw their average scores increase to 17.8, compared to to their peers, whose scores rose to 11.2. Almost one in four youth (24%) in the group without access to a computer had total difficulty scores classified as “high” or “very high”, compared to one in seven (14%) in the group with access to a computer.

Metherell, now a Ph.D. student at UCL, added: “The mental health of young people tended to suffer the most during the strictest periods of confinement, when they were less likely to be able to go to school or see friends. But those who did not have access to a computer were the most affected – their mental health suffered far more than their peers and the change was more dramatic.”

Dr Amy Orben of the Medical Research Council (MRC) Cognition and Brain Sciences at the University of Cambridge, the study’s lead author, added: “Rather than always focusing on the downsides of digital technology on the mental health of young people, we must recognize that it can have significant benefits and can act as a buffer for their mental health during times of acute social isolation, such as the lockdown.

“We don’t know if and when a future lockdown will happen, but our research shows we need to start thinking urgently about how we can tackle digital inequality and help protect the mental health of our young people at a a time when their regular in-person social media encounters are disrupted.”

The researchers say policymakers and public health officials need to recognize the risks of “digital exclusion” to young people’s mental health and prioritize equitable digital access.

More information:
Thomas E. Metherell et al, Digital access constraints predict poorer mental health in adolescents during COVID-19, Scientific reports (2022). DOI: 10.1038/s41598-022-23899-y

Provided by the University of Cambridge

Quote: Lack of computer access linked to poor mental health in young people during the COVID-19 pandemic (2022, November 14) Retrieved November 14, 2022 from https://medicalxpress.com/news/2022-11 -lack-access-linked-poorer-mental.html

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