The lockdowns that followed the initial spread of COVID-19 may have felt like the worst days of the pandemic for some. This view, however, is not held by everyone.

In a U.K. research paper published by a team at the University of Oxford and University of Cambridge, they found that lockdowns were seen as helpful for boosting the mental well-being of young people. Emma Soneson, a Ph.D. student at Cambridge who was part of the research team, said that the results of the work cut into the narrative that the lockdown was a universally negative experience for all.

"The common narrative that the pandemic has had overwhelmingly negative effects on the lives of children and young people might not tell the full story," said Soneson. "In fact, it seems as though a sizable number of children and young people may have experienced what they felt was improved wellbeing during the first national lockdown of 2020."

To help with their research, Soneson and her team relied on the OxWell Student Survey, a national school-based survey of students between eight and 18 years of age in England. Out of the more than 17,000 students who took part in the June/July 2020 survey, one in three rated their mental health as being better during the lockdown. This number was almost identical to students who said it had worsened their mental health or they had not noticed a change at all.

Students who felt they had had better wellbeing during lockdown were more likely than their peers to report positive lockdown experiences of school, home, relationships, and lifestyle. Why this was the case, the study summarized, may have to do with participants being separated from the regular stressors faced by young people, like peer pressure and bullying, or having more time to take care of their health.

National lockdowns by governments worldwide were seen as an onerous but essential response to curtail the spread of COVID-19. After the lockdowns ended, officials became loath to re-initiate them even during subsequent waves of COVID-19 that sent case counts and deaths higher. The U.K. experienced three lockdowns in the last two years but has since moved to relax COVID-19 restrictions as caseloads ease.

A common argument against lockdowns mirrors ones used to critique the continuation of remote learning during the pandemic. Parents and officials alike have arguedthat these conditions have primarily negative implications for students’ mental wellbeing for which research does exist to support their claims. Yet the U.K researchers’ study shows this argument is not universally true.

"While the pandemic has undoubtedly had negative consequences for many, it is important to keep in mind that this is not the case for all children and young people," said Professor Mina Fazel from the University of Oxford. "We are interested in how we can learn from this group and determine if some of the changes can be sustained in order to promote better mental health and wellbeing moving forward."