Coronavirus: Fears over impact on pupil mental health

But psychiatrists point out that some children with mental health difficulties will find being with parents comforting

Tes Reporter

Coronavirus: Protecting children's mental health during lockdown

Parents can do much to support children with mental health issues who are more likely to suffer from the effects of the lockdown than others, a psychiatry expert has said.

With schools shut due to the coronavirus pandemic, children have seen their usual routines disrupted and are separated from their peer groups.

Dr Elaine Lockhart, of the Royal College of Psychiatrists (RCPsych) in Scotland, said psychiatrists recognise that children and young people who are already struggling with their mental health will be more likely to suffer from the current lockdown and will need additional support and planning for returning to school.

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She said children will be affected by how their parents and carers are coping, and added that thinking about the wellbeing of the whole family is important.

She told the PA news agency: "Children and young people with existing anxiety disorders, eating disorders, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and psychosis are more likely to be adversely affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Coronavirus and pupil mental health

"This will be due to the anxiety they and others feel about the virus, which will increase symptoms of anxiety and distress.

"Children and young people will both be affected, but generally young people have more severe mental health disorders than children and often their coping strategies include seeing friends and activities which are curtailed at the moment.

"Parents and carers have a very important role to play supporting children and young people with mental health disorders, and children, in particular, will be largely affected by how their parents and carers are coping, so thinking about the wellbeing of the whole family is important  such as a good routine, daily exercise and involvement in helpful activities like cooking and baking, etc."

She said there are lots of helpful resources for families to access regarding how to maintain good mental health, such as the Young Scot website.

Dr Lockhart, chairwoman of the child and adolescent mental health faculty at RCPsych in Scotland, said that the current lockdown situation exacerbates the impact of social deprivation, with those living in difficult circumstances facing more of a challenge to maintain their wellbeing.

She said: "Children living in households where there is poverty, alcohol or substance misuse, abuse and neglect and parental poor health and disability are more likely to develop mental health disorders and at the moment will not have access to their usual support within education and social services.

"Children and young people with learning disability and severe autism find it difficult to have a huge change to their daily routine and families find it hard to care for them 24/7 without the direct input from services which offer education, extracurricular activities and respite."

However, she said that conversely some children and young people who struggle with day-to-day life because they have a learning disability, autism or severe anxiety are finding the current lockdown easier than normal life and will find it comforting to have their parents around all day.

Dr Lockhart said these children will need thoughtful planning and support from the full range of children's services to help them get back into school and their previous activities.

She added: "All of us working in children's services will need to work together to identify those most in need with their mental health and offer interventions to reduce suffering and improve life chances."

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