Children as young as four are suffering mental health problems due to the crisis

Photograph: Caleb Woods / Unsplash

Children as young as four are experiencing mental health problems as a result of the coronavirus crisis, a York clinician has revealed.

Difficulties range from anxiety and low mood to eating difficulties, panic attacks, sleeping problems and violent outbursts which may have been worsened by the lockdown.

And parents have also reported struggling with feelings of guilt.

Jennifer Bailey, clinical lead of a new service at The Retreat and who has formerly worked for the NSPCC in child psychotherapy, said children’s relationship with their parents has changed due to home schooling.

She added: “Children may have difficulties managing their emotions. They may become quiet and withdrawn when under lots of stress.

“Or some become overactive, having lots of arguments, running around the room.

“It’s an overwhelming time for children and parents, with many children saying they miss their friends.

“Some children have said they liked to go to school because their parents get irritated with each other and they like to get away.”

Difficult for parents

Jennifer Bailey

The NSPCC said it has delivered nearly 7,000 counselling sessions to children who have got in touch with worries about coronavirus nationally.

And Jennifer said parents should look out for changes in their children’s behaviour – including them interacting less with family – or becoming overactive.

She highlighted mental health problems among parents too: “It’s very difficult for parents if a child as young as four is withdrawn, quiet and interacting less or if they are losing their ability to concentrate, becoming irritable and violent with their siblings.

“I have heard more than one parent saying they understand what a hard time teachers have now.

“Parents say things like ‘I feel really bad because we didn’t start school until 11am’. Some have been giving themselves a really hard time for three months now.”

Routine is important for mental wellbeing, Jennifer said, and she encouraged parents not to ban social media but to check how their children are using the internet.

She said social media can be helpful – but that online bullying and grooming are still a problem parents must watch out for.

New service

The Retreat children\’s services. Photograph: DCimaging / Darren Casey /The Retreat

A new self-referral service has been launched at The Retreat for children and young people struggling with mental health problems.

The appointments will use play and art therapy, cognitive behavioural therapy techniques, and conversations involving parents and children through secure video link.

Research by the University of Bath warns children and young people may experience mental health problems as a result of the lockdown for years to come.

The study looked at the impact of loneliness and mental health problems among people aged four to 21 – and found that those who experience loneliness could be three times more likely to develop depression in the future.

The British Psychological Society has written to Government raising concerns about the impact of the crisis on children’s mental health.

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