The silent pandemic: are our children suffering?
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
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:
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
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:
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.
- Variety: podcast on how parents can look after the mental health and emotional wellbeing of disabled children during the coronavirus crisis
- Mentally Healthy Schools: children's mental health week toolkit
- CYPMHS (previously CAMHS): the NHS' children and young people's mental health services
- NSPCC: helpline for adults who are concerned about a child (you can remain anonymous). Call 0808 800 5000, or email [email protected]
- NSPCC: resources for parents and carers
- NSPCC: resources for children and young people (including Childline)
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