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CG BLOG – Ellen Townsend: Why I got involved in Collateral Global

“Two words really: my children.”

The reason I have done or said anything in this pandemic is because of them. It would have been a much easier life over the last 18 months or so to have not done or written anything that goes against the government and their pandemic policies. I often reflect on whether I would have been so ‘brave’ without them to stand up for – I hope so, but I’m not sure. I’ve felt all along that we should put children first in the disaster we have all experienced but sadly feel that we have failed to do this at every turn.

I have spent most of the last 23 years researching self-harm and suicide prevention, with a particular focus on young people. From the start of the first English lockdown, I was worried about the impact of lockdowns and restrictions on mental health and self-harmful behaviour. Subjecting people to social isolation was a very big concern – especially for young people, as social interaction is vital to their development and wellbeing.

I wrote my first blog about my concerns about the impact of the pandemic and associated restrictions in June 2020, and around the same time, I organised a letter from leading academics and clinicians to the Secretary of State for Education urging him to get children back to school as a matter of urgency. In both documents, I expressed the sentiment that young people should be released from lockdown restrictions as soon as possible. It felt risky to write this as very few academics had questioned the government lockdown policy at the time. I stand by this assertion.

I was delighted to accept the invitation to join the Scientific Advisory Board for Collateral Global as I believe it is important to name and account for all the impacts of mandated restrictions in the pandemic. I am particularly interested in accounting for the harms that children and adolescents have suffered in terms of their development, education, health and mental health. What we adults might think of as ‘nice to have’ such as play and socialisation are absolutely to vital development in children and adolescents. It’s not enough to say ‘young people are resilient’ – much of that resilience is scaffolded and supported by the environment and the community. When we take away these supports, we hamper resilience.  In closing schools and society, we have conducted a mass experiment with child and adolescent development, which will take many years to unpack and investigate. I am in for the long haul to help governments and societies to make better, evidence-informed, and holistic decisions in the future.

Ellen Townsend is a Professor of Psychology at the University of Nottingham. She specialises in self-harm, suicide prevention, and mental health and is a member of the Collateral Global Scientific Advisory Board.

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