The silent pandemic: are our children suffering? — Scope | Disability forum
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The silent pandemic: are our children suffering?

Tori_Scope
Tori_Scope Posts: 6,632

Scope community team

Content warning: mention of self-harm and specific mental health conditions, including eating disorders, in children.

This week is Children's Mental Health Week. With schools closed, in-person social activities cancelled, and levels of anxiety and uncertainty at a high, it's time we addressed the mental health of our children.

How has the pandemic affected children's mental health?

The scale of the problem

The Guardian: Figures lay bare toll of pandemic on UK children's mental health

The Children's Commissioner for England, and leading psychiatrists, have raised the alarm about young people’s mental health during the pandemic, as figures suggest a sharp rise in reports of sleep problems, eating disorders and self-harm.

  • Prescriptions for sleeping pills for under-18s rose 30% to 186,000 between March and June 2020, compared with two years ago

  • One of the largest private eating disorder services reported a 71% rise in admissions in September compared with the same period a year ago

  • More than 25% of young people felt unable to cope with life amid the pandemic, and almost a third had panic attacks

  • Almost 50% of those in learning worried that missing out on education would set them back for the rest of their life, with more than a third feeling their education had “gone to waste”

Fiona Forbes of the campaign group Sept for Schools has said:

“In the summer it was about juggling – ‘I can’t oversee small children and try to work’. Now we’re getting stories every day of children who, as one mum put it, are ‘crumbling before my eyes’. They can’t sleep, can’t eat, always in their pyjamas.”
It's clear that many of our children are struggling with their mental health at the moment, and that the problem might exist on a bigger scale than we'd like to think.

Why might this be happening?

This is something I'd be interested in hearing your thoughts on, but here are some ideas on why the mental health of our children is on the decline:
  • Lack of routine
  • Less time spent outside
  • Little face to face interaction with friends
  • Uncertainty about the future
  • Health anxiety
  • Having to adapt to online learning
young boy leaning on white chair looking sad

The mental health of disabled children

Children with significant mental health problems may fall within the definition of being disabled.

In addition, disabled children have a much greater chance of developing mental health problems. For example, according to Mentally Healthy Schools, children with learning difficulties are:
  • Four times more likely to have a diagnosable emotional mental health problem
  • Nearly twice as likely to have depression

The Mental Health Foundation have a really useful document on understanding the mental health of young people with learning difficulties, including information on who you can speak to for help.

A report in The Guardian has pointed out that, for parents of children with special needs, life has become doubly difficult.

Jane, whose 17-year-old and 13-year-old both have autism, worries that years of painstaking progress are being undone:

“The mental health of young people is a national emergency.”
“We have to plan for when people come out of the darkness, but we find so many young people still stuck there.”

Are services able to cope with the demand? 

Mental health services in England do not have the capacity to cope with the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on children Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner for England, has warned.
“Even before the Covid pandemic, we faced an epidemic of children’s mental health problems in England and a children’s mental health service that, though improving significantly, was still unable to provide the help hundreds of thousands of children required.” (The Guardian)
“Schools have said to me that they are pleased to prioritise wellbeing at this time but they are concerned that while they have requirements to assess, they do not have the funding to provide wellbeing support.” (The Guardian).
"[young people’s mental health services are] unable to meet demand" (The Guardian)
Although some services are struggling to cope with the demand, it's still really important that you go to the GP, or take your child to the GP, if you're worried about you or your child's mental health. There are also charities you or your child can reach out to for resources, advice, or counselling. 

Resources

In what ways do you think the pandemic could be endangering the mental health of our children? Conversely, has the lockdown helped your child’s mental health, and in what ways? Do you know of any other useful resources? 
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