Pupils are preparing to return to school on March 8 but, while it’s pens and pencils at the ready, getting that date doesn’t change the potential damage that the pandemic has inflicted on young people’s mental health.
Early research suggests that the Covid crisis and subsequent measures have already had a significant impact as a result of anxiety about the virus, school closures, distancing, and lack of structure and social contact – as well as a reduction in support services.
Lindsay Neil, clinical lead for Liverpool Fresh CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services), based at Alder Hey Children’s Hospital, says:
“I think it is important to recognise that children’s experiences during the pandemic will have been very different.
“Some will have enjoyed their extra time at home and will feel very anxious about returning to school; others will have struggled with the loss of opportunities to socialise and be desperate to see their friends again.
“Many will be coming to terms with bereavements and other losses.”
She says the real effects of the last year could take a while to emerge: “The full impact of the pandemic will probably only be seen and understood once we have emerged from it.
“So far in CAMHS we have seen an increase in demand for services for children and young people with eating disorders and other eating difficulties, and for children with neurodevelopmental difficulties such as autism who have found it hard to adjust to restrictions and other changes.”
It is important that all parents keep a constant watch of any signs of problems with their children either before the return to school or after.
CAMHS has issued 8 ways to help children who may be struggling to cope:
1. Know how to spot the signs
If you notice your child is becoming withdrawn, that there’s been a change in sleeping or eating habits, if they seem to lack confidence or get upset, it might be a sign that they are struggling.
2. Talk to your child
If you spot signs your child might be struggling, it’s important to talk to them. Keep talking and trying to communicate in any way you can – hugging, listening to them, texting them.
3. Create structure and routine
Try introducing a rota or loose timetable that includes fun things you’re doing during the week. This can help to create a feeling of stability, which can alleviate anxiety.
4. Give children a sense of control through information
Look online with your children to find useful information and resources that help children feel they have control.
5. Keep children learning
Using fun and creative ways at home to learn alongside continued access to educational opportunities will support your children’s development.
6. Limit screen time and mix up activities
As most socialising moves online, it’s important to have conversations on how an increase in screen time can have an impact on everyone’s mental health and self-esteem.
7. Help your child manage stress
(Again) if you spot signs you child might be struggling, it’s important to talk to them. Keep talking and trying to communicate in any way – hugging, listening to them, texting them, etc.
8. Expressing feelings doesn’t have to be face-to-face
Children might find it easier writing their thoughts down, so the whole family could do this and put them in a ‘feelings box’ and then talk about their good, sad, or difficult feelings at the end of the day.