Primary school children with long-term Covid ‘are more likely to have mental illness’

Primary school-age children with long Covid are significantly more likely to have a mental disorder than those without, according to a survey.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) found that pupils in Reception to Year 7 suffering the long-term effects of the virus were 30% more likely to have at least one probable mental illness.

Parents across the country have been given questions to answer on behalf of their children, with around 1% of elementary school students estimated to meet the Delphi criteria for long Covid.

The Delphi method defines long Covid as being present if symptoms affecting daily life persist over a period of 12 weeks or more.

According to the figures, a total of 8% of pupils of primary school age suffered from a probable mental disorder and 7.6% from a possible mental disorder.

About 30% of children with long Covid had probable mental illness compared to 7.7% without long Covid.

The trend was similar for high school students – 22.6% versus 13.6% – but this did not turn out to be a statistically significant difference.

The ONS added that the analysis does not take into account the mental health status of children before they had Covid, so causation cannot be inferred.

About 2.7% of high school students met the Delphi criteria for having experienced long Covid and 13.8% overall had probable mental illness, the data showed.

Among primary and secondary students, ‘loss of taste or smell’ was the single symptom more prevalent for those who had a positive Covid test than those who did not.

The study also asked headteachers about the level of mental health service provision in schools, with 87% saying their school had a designated mental health lead.

Of those who had a designated lead, 95% said they were very or somewhat confident that their school was able to implement the activities needed to develop a comprehensive approach to mental health.

Lack of time and pressure on staff resources were among the reasons listed for not feeling confident about the remaining 5%.

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