There is much widespread concern regarding the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and associated lockdown and social distancing measures on the mental health of children. In order to assess whether there has been an increase in child mental health symptoms following the start of the COVID-19 pandemic research studies with data collected immediately prior to the pandemic are required. The age 11-12 year assessment wave of the Wirral Child Health and Development Study (WCHADS), a general population birth cohort, began in December 2019. Mothers and children completed online or postal questionnaires to assess parents own mental health and parent and child-reported child mental health. Mothers also report on psychological abuse within their partner relationship. In June 2020 we conducted a repeat assessment of the WCHADS sub-sample who had completed assessments prior to March 16th, allowing us to compare levels of child emotional and behavioural problems, and mother reported mental health and psychological abuse, immediately prior to, and during, the pandemic. This enables us to determine whether there has been a change in mental health symptoms and partner relationship abuse in a representative community sample of mothers and children. In the repeat assessment we included questions on a number of COVID-19 related experiences, including front-line worker status of parents, parents home-schooling whilst home-working, COVID-19 financial impacts and other related stressors. We plan to examine whether these COVID-19 related variables moderate any change in mental health symptoms (as pre-registered here: https://aspredicted.org/f8gd8.pdf).. We aim to prepare these findings by September 2020. The COVID-related questions, mental health measures and other repeated measures in WCHADS assessing, for example, family and peer relationships, substance abuse, social media use and personality pathology are currently being completed by the remainder of the sample. Families taking part in the WCHADS study, funded by the UK Medical Research Council from pregnancy to age 9, have completed 11 prior phases of data collection, and in future publications we will examine the influence of a range of pre-existing vulnerabilities and sources of resilience on any COVID-19 related increase in mental health symptoms.
Andrew Pickles, Nicola Wright (Kings College London), Helen Sharp (University of Liverpool).