Children’s Mental Health Week
It’s Children’s Mental Health Week and the theme is Express Yourself.
I wrote a short post on my Instagram previously, titled The Children Of The Pandemic, describing my son’s disappointment when he found out that his planned trip to the park had turned into a trip to the Covid Testing Centre and a period of self-isolation.
He handled the earlier restrictions really well but at this point he was fed up and tearful about yet another change in plans. Thankfully, he was happier after a chat and agreeing new stay-at-home activities. Some children may express their feelings more easily than others. My step-daughter tends to say everything is ok at first, but will return for a chat later.
In the UK, we have gone back and forth between national lockdowns, tier systems, school closures, playground closures, and re-openings.
Children seem to be the least likely to become unwell with COVID-19 but the impact of the pandemic on children has been huge in other ways.
An RCPCH report into the impact of COVID-19 on child health services highlighted that there were a small but important number of late presentations, one of the top being mental health issues.
Adapting to change
Some of the changes children have had to adapt to at times during this pandemic, include:
- No contact with friends or family members that do not live with them
- Less social interaction in general than they may have had through activities and groups
- Restrictions to important events such as birthdays
- No school (or a different version of school for keyworker children)
- The closure of playgrounds
- Social distancing outside the home
- Wearing of masks becoming the norm in society
- Changes to children’s services
- Changes at home due to loss of parental income for those that were made redundant due to the pandemic (e.g. access to meals)
Some children may struggle to adapt to changes in their routine more than others.
The impact on parents has also been huge. Trying to manage work or look after other children as well as homeschooling can be quite challenging.
The pandemic has resulted in businesses closing and unemployment.
If there is domestic violence at home, at a time when the message is “stay at home”, home may not be the safest place to be.
I completely agree with the RCPCH (Royal College Of Paediatrics and Child Health) when they say that schools must be the last to shut and the first to open.
Signs of depression
Signs of depression may include, but are not limited to:
- Persistent low mood
- Frequently tearful, irritable, or mood swings
- Becoming withdrawn
- Losing interest or lack of enjoyment in things that they used to enjoy
- Low self-esteem
- Change in sleep pattern
- Change in appetite
Signs of anxiety
Signs of anxiety include, but are not limited to:
- Fearfulness and avoidance of particular situations
- Panic attacks
- Difficulty sleeping, changes in sleeping habits, bedwetting
- Pre-existing mental health conditions such as OCD may become worse, particularly during this time when children may feel a loss of control and try to adapt to changes to routine
- Tics may become worse or new tics may be noticed
- Physical complaints with no obvious cause such as abdominal pains and headache – please ensure you do check with your doctor so that a thorough history can be taken to exclude a physical cause.
How you can help
- Remember to look after your own mental health and seek help if you are struggling. It’s a difficult time for everyone, don’t struggle in silence.
- Children are very aware of the conversations around them so be mindful of what is discussed.
- Talk with your child about their feelings and concerns and listen to what they have to say. Acknowledge their feelings and the impact it is having on them.
- If they don’t want to talk now or say that they are feeling ok, let them know that they come to you later if they change their mind or think of something they would like to talk about.
- Screen-time has increased for a lot of children during the pandemic, consider whether cyber-bullying may be involved
- Maintaining a structure or routine can help lessen anxiety but it can be tough to maintain when you are trying to manage everything else at home. You need to find a balance where you aren’t finding it too stressful as that is no good either. I found it easier to have an order of things with an approximate time rather than something precise. I included my son in the discussions when lockdown first started in London and we created the first lockdown timetable together.
- Schedule zoom/video calls with family and friends.
- Stay active. It’s easy to get into a situation where you are spending lots of time at home with little exercise. Exercise is great for mood. Incorporate mindful activities such as yoga and meditation.
- Get creative. Art is a great way of expressing your emotions and is also a relaxing activity to do.
- Seek help – children services continue during the pandemic. If you are worried about your child’s mental health talk to your GP, other healthcare professionals, teacher, or any other person involved in your child’s care such as a social worker who will be able to help. If you are worried that your child’s life is in immediate danger, call the emergency services.
Other helpful resources include NHS Every Mind Matters which also includes links to multiple organisations that provide support and Place2Be’s Children’s Mental Health Week which has lots of links to additional resources including helpline contacts.
Amal is a paediatrician and mum/step-mum to four wonderful children. She started MedicMum101 to share tips and experiences on all things motherhood. She enjoys writing about parenting, health, and wellness, as well as other life musings from time to time. When she is not working, writing, or running after the kids, you can often find her working on a new piece of art.