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Health

Covid-19 affects BAME youth mental health more than white peers – study


Children of black, Asian and ethnic minority heritage are suffering much worse damage to their mental health as a result of the pandemic than their white peers, research has found.

The higher risk of BAME people dying from Covid-19 and inability to attend school over the last three months are behind large rises in anxiety and self-harm among non-white under-18s, experts say.

Data from one of the biggest providers of NHS-funded online mental health support shows that the mental wellbeing of children and young people of BAME origin has been affected disproportionately over the last three months compared with their white counterparts.

For example, the number of BAME under-18s seeking help for anxiety or stress from the Kooth digital support service increased by 11.4% during March, April and May compared with the same period last year, while it rose by much less – 3% – among white children that age.

The number of BAME under-18s contacting Kooth with suicidal thoughts went up by 26.6% over the same three months but by 18.1% among their white peers. It was the same with incidents of self-harm, where the BAME and white groups studied had respective increases of 29.5% and 24.9%.

About one in five of the 7,482 BAME young people in the study mentioned that they either had had suicidal thoughts or had self-harmed.

In addition, while the number of white under-18s reporting depression fell by 16.2% over the last three months, it rose among BAME children and young people by 9.2%, Kooth found.

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Kooth is a form of online mental health support for children and young people provided by 85% of England and Wales’s local NHS clinical commissioning groups. Their new findings are based on requests for help from 51,321 under-18s in England, of whom 7,482 were from a BAME background.

“These numbers tell us quite clearly that there has been a significant deterioration in children and young people’s mental health over recent months and as yet there is no indication that this is slowing down. This is a tremendous worry,” said Dr Lynne Green, a consultant clinical psychologist who is also the chief clinical officer at XenZone, the firm that provides Kooth.

“Of particular concern is the disparity we are seeing between BAME young people and their non-BAME counterparts. Sense of stability and control has been threatened for everyone during this pandemic. For our young people, whether in the middle of puberty or approaching adulthood, this is hitting hard. Depression and anxiety generally go hand in hand with feelings of hopelessness and dread of what might lie ahead.”

Kooth has also seen big rises in the number of BAME under-18s seeking help this year compared with last year, with difficulty sleeping (up 200%), concerns related to school or college (up 159%), and issues involving their family relationships (up 27%). Overall, 44% more BAME children and young people sought advice from Kooth in March, April and May than in the same period last year.

Aisha Gordon-Hiles, a counsellor at XenZone, said the higher risk of people of BAME origin contracting and dying from Covid-19 was a key factor. “Without there being much information on why this is or what can be done to prevent this increased risk it is understandable that this may further contribute to individuals from these communities feeling increased levels of stress, anxiety and depression, even if they are not consciously aware of the impact.”

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Andy Bell, the deputy chief executive of the Centre for Mental Health thinktank, said: “These are worrying figures. There is growing evidence from multiple sources that children and young people’s mental health is being severely affected by Covid-19. And just as Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities are disproportionately affected by the virus, the impacts on mental health may also be falling more heavily on young people from the same communities.”



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