The COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns have disproportionately affected young people, and those who are vulnerable are disadvantaged further. Here, we seek to understand the experiences of vulnerable young people accessing Web-based therapeutic support during the pandemic and early lockdown, as revealed through the observations of mental health professionals.
Four focus groups with 12 professionals from a digital mental health service were conducted to understand the experiences of vulnerable young people during the pandemic lockdown. Workshops with young people with diverse experiences resulted in the co-design of the focus group topic guide and the interpretation and validation of analysis. The experiential inductive–deductive framework of thematic analysis was used to analyse the workshop transcripts.
Four main themes and subsequent subthemes were identified: escalation of risk; the experience and consequence of loss; feeling supported and empowered; and feeling separate and isolated.
Findings reflect early data that suggest that those with existing vulnerability face an increased risk of poor outcomes through the pandemic and the restrictions of lockdown, but evidence is also provided of positive outcomes from lockdown and its function as a catalyst for change. Results reinforce the need for focused support for vulnerable young people as we emerge from lockdown, and point to supportive and protective factors of relevance to online and offline support provision.