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Poorer Children at Risk of Bad Mental Health Due to Summer Holiday Experiences

Child Mental Illness: Cardiff University research has shown inequality among children during summer holidays leads to poorer mental health. Source: Ryan Melaugh (via Flickr).

By Gee Harland

Cardiff University is the first to look to summer holiday experiences as a potential explanation for socioeconomic differences in mental health and wellbeing.

Data was gathered from 103,971 children between the ages of 11-16 years old, across 193 secondary schools within Wales.

Research from this data revealed that children from poorer backgrounds were less likely to spend time with friends and engage in physical activities when returning to school. They also reported being lonely and hungry.

Upon returning to school, children from poorer backgrounds also had worse mental health and wellbeing.

Dr Kelly Morgan, from Cardiff University’s Centre for the Development and Evaluation of Complex Interventions for Public Health Improvement (DECIPHer), stated “Childhood and adolescent inequalities have worsened in recent years resulting in poorer health and wellbeing for young people and families”.

“Children from low-income families are often entitled to free school meals during term time, but finding enough money for nutritious food during the summer holiday periods can be challenging for many families”.

Dr Kelly Morgan is the head of the research and hopes it will help encourage government to consider enforcing more policy which targets support to poorer children. She notes that the challenges faced by poorer families in the summer holidays have been recognised, with an increase in charitable and government funded school holiday provision, particularly for those families experiencing poverty.

She went on to say “Limited affordable opportunities for school holiday activities and the high cost of childcare can also limit young people’s opportunities to participate in social activities and interactions, and increase their risk of loneliness”.

This is the first study to focus on summer holidays as the key reason for poorer children’s mental health and wellbeing being worsened.

Dr Morgan summarises “Our findings suggest that school holiday interventions, which are able to reduce negative summer holiday experiences like loneliness, hunger, social isolation, physical inactivity may have a role to play in reducing socioeconomic inequalities in mental health and wellbeing on young people’s return to school.

“That said, it is important to acknowledge that school holiday interventions provide a short term fix; structural solutions, albeit likely to require considerable investment, are vital in preventive efforts going forward.”

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