Covid pandemic sees massive jump in children seeking mental health help

Posted: 21st February 2022

THE pandemic has driven demand for children’s mental health services to record levels, a report has warned.

Despite being at low risk of Covid, the disruption to their lives, routines and education is feared to have had a significant impact on youngsters’ mental health.

Referrals for children and teenagers needing NHS support between April and September last year soared by 81 per cent compared with the same period in 2019.

There were also more than 15,000 urgent or emergency crisis care referrals during that period, up 59 per cent on three years ago.

The data was analysed by QualityWatch, a joint initiative between the Nuffield Trust and Health Foundation think tanks.

Tim Gardner, senior policy fellow at the Health Foundation, called for young people to be put “at the heart of the national recovery effort”.

He said: “The analysis is further evidence that the headline numbers of Covid cases, hospital admissions and deaths mask the unequal burdens carried by different generations during this pandemic.

“Covid has had a profound impact on the health of our children and young people, even though they are generally at least risk from the virus itself.

“The pandemic has driven demand for mental health services to record levels and increased delays in accessing routine hospital treatment.

“The disruption to education, employment and social support will have consequences for children’s future health prospects.”

Between April 2020 and March 2021, one in five children waited more than 12 weeks for a follow-up appointment with mental health services, the analysis found.

The number waiting to start treatment for a suspected eating disorder quadrupled from pre-pandemic levels to 2,083 by September 2021.

A&E attendances for under- 19s with an eating disorder doubled from 107 in October 2019 to 214 in October 2021.

Experts were also concerned about growing waits for other types of paediatric care and increases in urgent GP referrals.

Jessica Morris, a researcher at the Nuffield Trust, said: “In many ways, the wider effects of the pandemic and nationwide lockdowns on children and young people have been greater than the Covid infection itself.

“Despite being much less at risk of hospitalisation from the virus, the youngest members of our society have not escaped unscathed and we can see a heavy toll on their mental wellbeing and access to health services.

“Healthcare services for children and young people, just as with adult care, are facing an uphill battle to recover from the pandemic. But they rarely get the same level of scrutiny or exposure.”

Responding to the data, Dr Camilla Kingdon, president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, warned of long-term consequences if children do not get timely support.

She said: “Pre-pandemic children’s mental health services were already strained. But an 81 per cent increase in patient referrals to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services in 2021 compared to 2019 shows our children are struggling – and action needs to be taken.

“Our children have coped with the stresses presented by the pandemic in a remarkable way.

“However, supporting children and young people with their mental health is absolutely essential.

“Three-quarters of lifelong mental health problems start before the age of 25 and today’s children and young people are considered to have worse mental health outcomes compared to previous generations.”


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