MENTAL health issues for children and young people are rising in the pandemic.
And children say they are scared of losing people to the virus.
During the third lockdowns, children said they were increasingly fearful of what would happen if they or a family member became ill.
In July 2020, the NHS conducted a survey on children and young people. It shows that mental illness in children aged five to 16 and young people aged 17 to 22 has increased. The report states that the south east region is the fourth highest in the country for mental health issues involving young people.
One in six children aged five to 16 were found to have a probable mental health disorder, while 58.9 per cent had reported sleeping difficulties. Those children were more than twice as likely to live in a household experiencing financial difficulties. They were five times more likely to not spend quality time with their family during the week.
Among 11 to 16-year-olds, 63.8 per cent had witnessed adults in the home arguing and of that same age group, 54 per cent had said they felt lockdown had made things worse.
Fifty per cent of children were worried that a family member or friend would catch Covid-19.
The Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services for Hampshire – CAMHS – have reported unusual trends in referrals during the pandemic.
During the first lockdown in March 2020, they reported a 50 to 60 percent decrease in referrals to the service. However, by August they were receiving significantly higher numbers of referrals. By November cases had risen by 28 per cent.
Lao Cooper, Head of Service at Hampshire CAMHS, said: “The service is experiencing significant pressures as a result of the increasing demand which is affecting our waiting times. We are increasing our staffing following recent investment which will ensure timely access and enhance services available to young people and families locally.
“Our services remain open for children, young people and families. We’ve had to adapt the way we work. Where people are unable to adapt to online consultations and require to be seen in person, face-to-face consultations are still taking place in a safe and secure environment in line with national guidance on Covid-19 safety and clinical need.”
Naomi Bethan, a mother of three from Fareham, spoke about the problems her 12-year-old daughter Holly has faced since the pandemic began.
“Things have 100 percent been exacerbated by the instabilities,” she said.
“Not knowing when she’s going back to school and the decision-making which has happened over night, especially with the latest one where we had the Christmas holidays, they went back to school for one day and then were told they’re not going to school again.”
“She’s stopped eating, she’s stopped sleeping, she’s not motivated to do anything at all and she’s now on anti-depressants.”
Naomi says that although Holly has experienced thoughts of self-harming, she is receiving support from CAMHS which has been very responsive to her needs and treatment.
Heather Short, a mother of two from Fareham, said she has experienced concerns relating to mental health with her daughter Poppy, aged seven: “We have had quite a few issues.
“We’ve had nightmares, not wanting to go to bed and we’ve had some quite adult statements from her. She has said she would like to kill herself and that she wants to die. It was like a gut punch to hear it.”
NSPCC’s Childline has experienced difficulties coping with added pressures and has reported a shortfall of staffing levels by 40 per cent as a result of the pandemic and is warning people about this devastating impact on children. Figures reveal Childline has seen an increase in the number of counselling sessions relating to mental and emotional health in children.
The latest data from the NSPCC shows that the service has delivered 54,926 counselling sessions to children of all ages specific to mental health from April 2020 to the end of December.
Childline’s Founder and President, Dame Esther Rantzen, said: “With children spending more time behind closed doors, it is absolutely imperative that Childline is there for them. Many young people, especially those in unsafe homes, are feeling desperately anxious and depressed.
“School can be the only safe haven they know, and without that support, they feel entirely alone. For them, Childline is literally a lifeline but the service urgently needs more volunteers to listen to and support children, and more funds to pay for their calls and on-line contacts.”
The founder of the National Bullying helpline, Christine Pratt, said she was becoming increasingly concerned about the future of young people. And something that is being overlooked and closely relates to mental health and wellbeing is cyber bullying.
More children now have access to the internet and mobile devices. She said the helpline had almost immediately noted a significant difference: “Traffic to the website went through the roof and telephones were ringing off the hook.”
Every day throughout last summer, they received at least 5,000 visitors to the website. The problem is that many children don’t realise a malicious message on social media can be considered bullying, things aren’t being reported to the police. Social media, for many children in lockdown, is the main form of communication with friends and if you remove that, you are adding to their isolation.”
If you have concerns about mental health in a child or young person please contact CAMHS on 0300 304 0050, NSPCC on 0808 800 5000 or the National Bullying Helpline on 0300 323 0169 for 24-hour support. If the danger is immediate, please call 999.
By Kirsty Dawson