This week is Mental Health Awareness Week and charity YoungMinds has published the results of a survey with more than 1,850 parents and carers, in which respondents expressed worries about the long-term impact of COVID-19 on their children’s mental health.
The charity published the results as it launched Beyond Tomorrow, a campaign calling on the Government to take action now to limit the long-term impact of the pandemic on young people’s mental health.
Prior to its latest survey, YoungMInds had already ascertained that 83% of young people believe the coronavirus pandemic has made their mental health worse. A quarter of those who were accessing mental health support before the crisis are no longer receiving it.
The survey of parents and carers revealed the extent of the ongoing challenge faced on the other side of the table, by those needing professional support advice to support their children. The key findings of the survey were:
• 67% of respondents are concerned about the long-term impact of the coronavirus on their child’s mental health. This rose to 77% among parents and carers whose children had required mental health support in the previous three months.
• 29% of respondents disagreed that there was enough support (information, helplines and resources) available to help them and their children get through this difficult time, while some 24% said that they would not know where to turn right now for advice and information on supporting their children’s mental health.
• Among respondents with children who had received mental health support in the previous three months (through the NHS, private providers, school counsellors, charities and helplines) 25% said that their child was no longer able to access it, but still needed it.
• 66% of respondents said that the coronavirus had had a negative impact on their own mental health.
The Beyond Tomorrow report urges the Government to ensure that young people who need mental health advice can get it, that there is increased support for people responsible for children now and that schools are able to prioritise children’s wellbeing now and when it is safe for them to reopen. It also calls for continued investment in mental health services as restrictions change, to ensure that young people who have been affected can get ongoing support.
Parents and carers who took part in the survey reported that the pandemic had already affected their children in a wide range of ways, including:
• an increase in anxiety and depression;
• a sense of loss and fear;
• difficulties coping with a lack of structure and routine;
• increased isolation; and
• missing face-to-face contact with friends.
The charity also asked about the top concerns parents and carers had for the children and young people in their care. Many respondents were worried about how young people would transition back to ‘normality’ when lockdown was eased and how this would affect their future. Other respondents raised concerns around the effect the pandemic was having on their child’s recovery from existing mental health conditions.
Emma Thomas, chief executive of YoungMinds, said: “The coronavirus pandemic is the biggest health crisis for generations, and the restrictions the Government has put in place have been absolutely necessary.
“The pandemic has also turned the lives of millions of children and young people upside down. Many young people are finding it hard to cope with isolation, a loss of routine, anxiety about the future, a disruption to their education, and in some cases difficult or traumatic experiences at home. Despite huge efforts from mental health professionals, young people with existing mental health needs often can’t get the same level of support as they had before the crisis.
“As our survey shows, many parents and carers are deeply worried about the long-term impact of the pandemic on the young people in their care, and don’t know where to turn for advice and support.
“That’s why the Government needs to take action, to make sure that support is available for young people and families who need it, now and as we emerge from the pandemic.”
Beyond Tomorrow is calling on the Government to:
• Ensure that all young people and families who need immediate mental health support can get it, to prevent the pandemic from having long-term consequences for young people’s mental health.
• Help schools and professionals to support young people with their mental health during the pandemic and as restrictions change.
• Commit to introducing additional support for young people’s mental health as we emerge from the pandemic to tackle the anticipated rise in mental health needs.
Thomas added. “Professionals who work in the young people’s mental health sector deserve enormous credit for continuing to provide support where they can.
“But we need to find ways to help those young people who have lost their support – not least because, in many cases, they have also lost many of their coping mechanisms, including contact with friends or routines that help them to manage their conditions.
“We also know that many young people who previously might not have needed mental health support are likely to do so in future. As the impact of the pandemic and the restrictions on their lives continues to sink in, more young people are likely to struggle.
“This is a time when we must all pull together and look out for those who are most at risk in our society. The Government must fully recognise the growing mental health impact that COVID-19 will continue to have on children and young people and ensure that addressing this is a key component of the ongoing response.”
YoungMinds has launched a petition aimed at the Government – for more information, go to www.youngminds.org.uk/beyondtomorrow
Thomas was also the lead signatory of an open letter sent to Government on May 19, covering the impact on young people's mental health during lockdown. Here it is in full:
Dear Prime Minister,
Covid-19: impact on children and young people’s mental health
We are writing to you to ask that your Government takes urgent steps to reduce the impact of the Covid-19 outbreak on children and young people’s mental health – both now and in the future.
The Covid-19 pandemic is the biggest health crisis for generations, and the measures that the Government has taken to limit the spread of the virus, including restrictions on movement and the closure of schools to most students, are necessary to save lives.
However, the crisis is affecting many young people in ways that will risk long-term consequences for their mental health. One in eight children and young people already have a diagnosable mental health condition, and research suggests that the majority of those believe that the pressures created by the crisis are exacerbating their needs.
Many others – including those who have experienced bereavement, abuse or domestic violence – are also likely to require additional support. The fear of becoming ill or seeing a loved one become ill, the loss of routines, the difficulties of social connection, the impact of loneliness, the disruption to education and the challenges of living in difficult or dangerous situations are creating additional pressure for young people across the country. Young people who belong to groups that are already marginalised or disadvantaged may be particularly at risk.
While mental health professionals deserve enormous credit for responding to the challenges the pandemic brings, many young people who were receiving some form of mental health treatment before the crisis are now receiving reduced support or no support at all. Other young people who would not previously have met the threshold for mental health support are likely to require it. Without preventative action, their needs are likely to escalate.
With the restrictions on access to schools, universities and primary care, there is often uncertainty or reticence about how and when to access mental health support. In many cases, young people have also lost the coping mechanisms that could help them to manage their mental health.
When it is safe for restrictions to change, there needs to be a clear plan about how to grow and develop services, how to enable social re-integration and how to support groups who are disproportionately affected by the crisis.
Before the pandemic, young people’s mental health was beginning to get the attention and resourcing it needs – but, despite improvements, services were often overstretched and inconsistent across the country. With demand likely to increase, we cannot afford to lose momentum.
We welcome the steps that the Government has already taken to prioritise mental health, including a £5 million fund for organisations providing mental health support, and guidance for parents issued through Public Health England. However, this falls well short of meeting the scale of need. While many voluntary sector providers have been quick to adapt to the changing landscape – moving support online, and using innovative approaches to safe service delivery - there remain gaps in infrastructure and funding which threaten the long term sustainability of these efforts.
That is why your Government must take a clear and coordinated approach to tackling the impact of the pandemic on children and young people, launching a recovery plan that enables the growth and continuity of support as restrictions change.
• Offer immediate emergency funding to increase young people’s and families’ access to mental health support through youth organisations charities and helplines; and ensure that clear routes are available for young people to access NHS mental health services while restrictions are in place.
• Launch a national campaign to reach 10 million children and young people, and their families, to promote positive approaches for maintaining mental wellbeing, working alongside the voluntary sector to do so.
• Deliver a wellbeing support package for schools, enabling them to prioritise wellbeing now and over the next academic year, and providing guidance and resources on how to manage transitions when it is safe for students to return to school.
• Commit to introducing additional support for young people’s mental health as we move out of the pandemic to meet rising demand, including re-committing to the measures outlined in the NHS Long Term Plan in full and funding additional early intervention services.
• Launch a cross-government strategy for young people’s mental health, taking a ‘young people’s wellbeing in all policies’ approach to future policy-making and addressing inequalities that can contribute towards worse mental health
We recognise the scale of the challenge that the Government is facing. However, by taking bold action now, you can reduce the impact of the pandemic and give hope to millions of children and young people across the country.
Emma Thomas, Chief Executive, YoungMinds
Professor Peter Fonagy, Chief Executive, The Anna Freud Centre
Kate Fallon, General Secretary, Association of Educational Psychologists
Natalie Bailey, Chair, British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy
Javed Khan, CEO, Barnardo’s
Dr Ruth Allen, CEO, British Association of Social Workers
Andrew Radford, Chief Executive, BEAT
Sarb Bajwa, Chief Executive, British Psychological Society
Amanda Chetwynd-Cowieson, Chair of the Board of Trustees, British Youth Council
Sarah Hughes, CEO, Centre for Mental Health
Sir Norman Lamb, Chair, Children and Young People's Mental Health Coalition
Kathy Evans, CEO, Children England
Mark Russell, Chief Executive, The Children’s Society
Angela Salt, CEO, Girlguiding
Advocate Youth Panel, Girlguiding
Katie Ghose, Chief Executive Officer, KIDS
Hamish Elvidge, Chair, The Matthew Elvidge Trust
Mark Rowland, Chief Executive, Mental Health Foundation
Paul Farmer CBE, Chief Executive, Mind
Chris Martin, Chief Executive, The Mix
Anna Feuchtwang, Chief Executive, National Children's Bureau
Paul Whiteman, General Secretary, NAHT
Caroline Stevens, Chief Executive, The National Autistic Society
Mary Bousted, Joint General Secretary, National Education Union
Leigh Middleton, Chief Executive, National Youth Agency
Catherine Roche, Chief Executive, Place2Be
Professor Russell Viner, President, Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health
Professor Wendy Burn, President, Royal College of Psychiatrists
Duncan Stephenson, Deputy Chief Executive, Royal Society of Public Health
Ruth Sutherland, CEO, Samaritans
Schools Wellbeing Partnership
Dr Rania Marandos , Chief Executive, Step up to Serve
Ndidi Okezie, CEO, UK Youth
Barry Williams, Chief Executive, Youth Access
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