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Without doubt, lockdown has been hard on us all as we find ourselves in the midst of a global pandemic, a once in a lifetime event.

It’s been particularly tough on society’s youngest as schools, colleges and universities switch to online learning. Whilst an excellent teaching aid, technology can’t replace those soft skills that can only be taught through social interaction; relationship building, teamwork and for young people at university, taking their first steps to independence, away from home.

Understandably, children and young people are more likely to be feeling anxious overwhelmed and upset at present. Mourning over being unable to see friends, take part in enriching extracurricular activities and stress caused by life-changing exams whose administration seems to change at the drop of a hat, life can feel out of control for the young.

This is backed up by the statistics with one NHS commissioned study showing that in children aged 11-25, there was a 161% increase in sleep problems, 63% increase in loneliness and a 27% increase in self-harm compared with the same period in the previous year [1].

This is a perfectly natural response and for the most part, adequate support from families and friends should be enough to help children and young people weather the storm. There will of course be those that need a bit more help but remember that help is available, even during this time.

What should I do if I am worried about a child’s mental health?

1. Listen to them

Make the time to really listen to them in a calm, safe and non-judgmental environment

2. Try to understand what their worries are

It might be that your ideas about what is worrying a child do not match up with what their worries actually are. The issues they are worried about could be more subtle such as bullying, low self-esteem, self-harm by someone close to them or relationship problems with friends and family.

Equally, their worries could be caused by something more noticeable such as recent bereavements, worries about exams, employment and opportunities or coping with pre-existing physical and mental illness.

3. Take time to talk to them

In a rapidly changing, uncertain situation, clear communication is key. After listening to their concerns and reassuring them that you have heard them, take time to explain to children what is happening in a way they will understand and be receptive to.

A good place to start for younger children is the Children’s Commissioner’s guide to coronavirus for children [2] and the storybook produced by the Intra Agency Standing Committee [3].

4. Keep a watchful eye

Without being intrusive, look out for telltale signs that a child or young person’s mental health might be deteriorating. These can include changes in mood, appetite and sleep. More advice on these signs can be found on the excellent resource provided by the patient [4].

As we come to spend more and more time on our computers, it becomes important to check if your child is accessing potentially harmful sites such as those promoting anorexia and self-harm.

If you think that a child or young person is starting to show these signs, please seek specialist advice. The charity Young Minds has a short publication for parents and guardians addressing this [5].

5. Help them find positive activities

Whilst restrictions remain in place for safety, encourage children and young people to take part in activities that mean they aren’t isolating themselves.

This could take the form of exercise, outside if possible, board games or taking up a new hobby. This can distract from negative thoughts and may even help them talk about what they are feeling.

6. Promote structure and routine

It has long been known that frequent changes to routine unsettle children with a particular impact on sleep. Even whilst at home, try to set up a weekly routine or schedule with a regular bedtime which can promote a sense of certainty and predictability.

7. Support children and young people with a disability

The pandemic and its restrictions have been particularly difficult for those children with additional needs as their routines are disrupted, special schools close and access to services like speech and language therapy are restricted. Unfortunately, this has to lead to a regression of symptoms and behaviour in many [6].

Children with ADHD might be finding it particularly challenging to be cooped up unable to let off steam whilst those with OCD might be finding the extra attention to cleanliness triggering.

Again, a clear explanation of events is paramount and seek advice in the first instance from specialist services or your GP if you are struggling.

8. Seek help immediately if you think a child or young person is having suicidal thoughts or self-harming

It is important that you take action if you discover these worrying symptoms and contact a crisis mental health helpline or speak to your GP. If you think there is an immediate threat to life, don’t hesitate to dial 999 or go to A&E. Sources of additional help can be found at the end of this article.

9. Look after yourself too

This pandemic is difficult for everyone, not just the young and caring for others can take its toll. Talk to family and friends, use your support network and remember help is always available if you feel it’s all too much.

What should I do if I am worried about my child right now?

Despite the pandemic, service are still very much available so don’t delay getting help when you need it. If urgent help is needed, contact your local NHS helpline [7] to be connected with a mental health specialist who can help you move forwards.

This helpline operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week. If you think there is an immediate threat to life such as an overdose, dial 999 without delay or take your child to A&E.

Your GP or 111 should be contacted if you find unexplained injuries on your child such as cuts or burn marks.

Where can I get help?

In addition to the services outlined above, there is a wealth of support, advice and information from a range of organisations including:

  • Public Health England: their Better Health Every Mind Matters campaign has plenty of resources on looking after your mental health [8]
  • Drug and alcohol rehab for teens
  • SHOUT: a 24/7 text message support service, free on all major network providers by texting SHOUT to 85258
  • YoungMinds Parents Helpline: support for parents and guardians, available 9:30 to 16:00 on weekdays
  • Samaritans: impartial support for all at any time by ringing 116 123 or emailing jo@samaritans.org
  • NHS Blog: advice produced by the NHS especially for children and young people [9]

References

1. https://xenzone.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/CYP_Infographic_110620-CSE_V5.pdf

2. https://www.childrenscommissioner.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/cco-childrens-guide-to-coronavirus.pdf

3. https://interagencystandingcommittee.org/system/files/202004/My%20Hero%20is%20You%2C%20Storybook%20for%20Children%20on%20COVID-19.pdf

4. https://patient.info/news-and-features/signs-your-child-is-struggling-with-their-mental-health

5. https://youngminds.org.uk/media/2451/social-media-a-guide-for-parents.pdf

6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7156240/

7. https://www.nhs.uk/using-the-nhs/nhs-services/mental-health-services/where-to-get-urgent-help-for-mental-health/

8. https://www.nhs.uk/oneyou/every-mind-matters/

9. https://www.england.nhs.uk/blog/what-to-do-if-youre-a-young-person-and-its-all-getting-too-much-2/

boris

Boris is our editor-in-chief at Rehab 4 Addiction. Boris is an addiction expert with more than 20 years in the field.  His expertise covers a broad of topics relating to addiction, rehab and recovery. Boris is an addiction therapist and assists in the alcohol detox and rehab process.