Children being referred to the NHS with serious mental health problems has reached a record high, as a royal college warned the Covid pandemic risks a generation being lost to “lifelong” illness.
Dr Dubicka, chair of the college’s child and adolescent faculty, said the closure of schools and universities meant hundreds of thousands of children would miss out on “landmark occasions” in their lives from exams to friendships.
“All of this adds to a perfect storm of a pre-existing mental health crisis, rising demand, staff shortages and years of under investment in children’s mental health services, meaning children may not get the help they need, potentially leaving a generation lost to poverty and lifelong mental illness.”
Half of the college’s child psychiatrists are reporting an increase in emergency or urgent cases, she said, while one in six children now have a mental health problem, according to NHS research, up from one in nine just three years ago.
“The effect of school closures, cancelled exams and empty lecture halls will reverberate through our families and communities long after Covid-19 is consigned to the history books,” she said.
“Inequalities will widen, life chances will diminish, and the mental health crisis already running rife in our young people could plague this generation for years to come.”
She warned it would undermine social mobility by widening the gap for children from poorer backgrounds who had less access to computers for remote learning from home.
Social interactions and friendships that strengthened children’s health and well-being had gone and there was less chance for teachers to spot a child’s impending mental illness early.
“Lost are the interactions between teachers and pupils, which are so important in identifying distress and mental illness, 75 per cent of which start in childhood and adolescence,” said Dr Dubicka.
She warned that 'the Government’s 10-year mental health strategy to put a mental health team in every school had been set back by the pandemic'.
But she urged ministers to accelerate the rollout of the teams, invest in increased mental health staff and double the number of medical school places.
Childline has seen an increase in the number of counselling sessions about mental and emotional health with children aged 11 and under since lockdown measures were first introduced
The NSPCC is warning about the devastating mental health impact of the pandemic on children as new figures reveal Childline has seen an increase in the number of counselling sessions about mental and emotional health with children aged 11 and under since lockdown measures were first introduced – with the monthly average rising by 16%.
The latest data from the NSPCC - also shows that the service has now delivered a total of 54,926 counselling sessions to children of all ages on this issue from April to the end of December against the backdrop of the pandemic.
The monthly average number of counselling sessions on mental health where children spoke about loneliness also rose by 10% compared to the pre-lockdown period from January to March.
Childline counselling is delivered by volunteers and in response to these latest worrying figures and with COVID restrictions continuing, the service is urgently appealing to those who can spare four hours one evening a week or at the weekend to volunteer, so Childline can be here for children when they need us the most.
With schools closed to the majority of pupils until at least mid-February and the whole of the UK in lockdown, Childline has never been more important as a source of support for young people who are struggling. Now more than ever, it is essential that children are not left isolated, alone and unsupported.
Over the past ten months, the NSPCC-run service’s trained counsellors have heard first-hand the devastating impact that the challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic have had on young people’s mental health.
Children who contacted Childline’s trained counsellors about their mental health spoke about concerns including loneliness, low mood, low self-esteem, depression and anxiety.
Some have been feeling isolated and overwhelmed due to concerns about family members catching the virus, or school closures and cancelled exams – while others have felt cut off from support networks and are missing family and friends.
One girl, 16, who contacted Childline said: “I feel really sad and lonely. I need to talk to someone because I don’t really have anyone right now. I am really struggling with the whole isolation thing. Most days I find myself just lost in my own thoughts and feeling numb. I am classed as a vulnerable person, so my isolation lasts for 12 weeks, which seems like a lifetime.”
Since the first lockdown last year, mental health has remained the top concern that children and young people talked to Childline about. The service has delivered between 5000 to 7000 counselling sessions every month on this issue with the numbers fluctuating throughout the year as the situation changes and Covid restrictions were lifted and re-imposed. Since the latest national lockdown many children have been reaching out and talking about this and Childline is continuing to support them with their worries.
During the pandemic, Childline has continued to adapt to ensure it can still be here for children including developing online training so volunteers can answer emails from young people remotely. However, despite this, since last March volunteer numbers have dropped by 40%.
Volunteering for Childline is just one of the ways to help make 2021 a better year for children.
Despite, the latest national lockdown, Childline will remain open and staff and volunteers have been given key worker status to continue their vital work. Sparing a few hours, one evening a week or at the weekend volunteering at a local Childline base can help ensure Childline continues to support children who often have nowhere to turn.
Childline Founder and President, Dame Esther Rantzen said:
“With schools now shut again and children spending more time behind closed doors, it is absolutely paramount that we all come together to support children and help ensure the impact of the pandemic does not continue on into adulthood."
“With the right help and support, these children can go on to have full and happy lives.
“Therefore, I encourage anyone who can to join the NSPCC in their mission to make 2021 a better year for children.”