Charities, doctors, and educationalists have warned that in the long run, the coronavirus outbreak will have dire consequences on children’s mental health, reported Katherine Sellgren of BBC, a British news channel. Thirty organizations wrote to the prime minister, pushing ministers to take action to minimize the impact of the outbreak on young people’s mental health both in the present and in the future.
The Impact of COVID-19 On the Mental Health of Children and Young People
YoungMinds, the UK’s leading charity fighting for children and young people’s mental health, surveyed 1,854 parents or carers between April 9 and May 10. The survey was done on surveygizmo.eu and promoted via social media and charity mailing lists. 745 respondents said their kids had received some form of mental health support including those from the NHS, charities, schools, or helplines in the last three months.
Overall, 67% of parents agreed that they were concerned about the long-term impact of COVID-19 on their kid’s mental health, while 14% disagreed. 77% of parents and carers whose children had received mental health support in the last three months agreed that they were concerned about the virus’s long-term impact on their child’s mental health. Only 8% of them disagreed.
24% of respondents admitted that they would not know where to turn for advice or information on supporting their kid’s mental health. Of those who had accessed mental health support in the last three months, 22% said they would not know where to turn for advice and information. 29% disagreed that there is enough support such as information, helplines, and resources available to help them and their child get through these trying times.
33% of those whose children had accessed mental health support in the last three months disagreed that there was enough support available. Respondents whose kids had received mental health support in the last three months were instructed to rate the level of mental health support their child was currently able to access.
4% said their child received the same level of support in the same way. 63% said their child received the same level of support in a different way (ex: remotely) or reduced support. 25% stated that their child was no longer able to access mental health support but still needed it, and 9% reported their child no longer accessed mental health support and no longer need it.
Respondents agreed that listening to/playing music (84%), watching TV/films (82%), exercise (82%), spending time with family (80%), face-to-face calls with friends (74%), and face-to-face calls with family (71%) have helped their child cope with the pandemic.
Moreover, parents also believed that learning new skills (58%), gaming (57%), reading books (56%), and school/university work (48%) were helpful. The least helpful activity was reading or watching the news, with 14% and 55% believing that this had been helpful and unhelpful, respectively. 66% of respondents admitted that the COVID-19 pandemic had had an impact on their mental health.
Many of them said that they would welcome support for themselves, including practical and financial help, access to amenities like supermarkets, or more support for them in helping their child adjust to the crisis.
British Government Offers Advice On How to Help Kids Cope With the Pandemic
In the British government’s official website Gov.UK, the rationale of its advice is to help adults with caring responsibilities to take care of the mental health and wellbeing of children and the youth, including those with disabilities and special needs during the pandemic. The government advised parents to listen and acknowledge their children’s feelings and to observe any changes in behavior.
The government also suggested MindEd, a free online educational resource on children and young people’s mental health for adults, to support parents and carers. The website also noted how young people of different age groups may react during the pandemic. For example, infants to two-year-old children may be more easily distressed, cry more than usual, or want to be held and cuddled more.
On the other hand, preteens and teenagers may feel a myriad of emotions, feel overwhelmed, or have concerns about how school closures and exam cancelations will affect them. The government recommended that parents contact their child or young person’s mental health professional or team to discuss concerns and to find out how care will be accessed while staying at home. It also encouraged parents to offer extra support and to plan how they will access medication.
The Call for the British Government to Reduce the Impact of the Pandemic on Children’s Mental Health
The letter, which was published on YoungMind’s website and written by 34 heads of organizations, called for the government to offer additional support for those who have experienced bereavement, abuse, or domestic violence. Across the UK, loneliness, disruption of education, and the challenges of living in dangerous situations have put more pressure on young people, especially those who are already marginalized or disadvantaged.
Mental health professionals deserve credit for responding to the pandemic’s challenges, but many children who were receiving some form of mental health support prior to the crisis now receive reduced support or no support at all. Young people’s mental health started to receive the attention they needed before the crisis. However, even if there were improvements, mental health services were often inconsistent and overstretched.
The letter called on the government to offer immediate emergency funding to increase young children’s and families’ access to mental support via youth organizations, charities, and helplines. The government should ensure that NHS mental health services are accessible to the youth despite restrictions.
The letter urged the government to deliver a wellbeing support package for schools to help them prioritize wellbeing now and into the next school year. Moreover, it also mandated the government to provide assistance and resources on how to cope with transitions as soon as it is safe for returns to go back to school.
The letter also affirmed the need to launch a cross-government strategy for young people’s mental health. The strategy should take their wellbeing into consideration when formulating policies and addressing inequalities that can lead to the deterioration of mental health. The organizations believe that the government could reduce the pandemic’s impact and give hope to millions of youth in the UK if it acts now.
The British government’s advice on helping young people cope with the pandemic is sound and comprehensive. However, the UK must also bolster its efforts to ensure that every youth has equal access to mental health services and address barriers to care.