On 16 April 2020, the government announced that UK lockdown restrictions were to be extended for at least another three weeks as it tackles the coronavirus outbreak.
This obviously has implications for us all, but parents may be particularly concerned about the effect it will have on their child’s mental health – whether or not they have experienced problems before.
Research from YoungMinds suggests that 32 per cent of young people with a history of mental health problems felt that the pandemic had made their mental health much worse, and 51 per cent said that it had made it a bit worse.
So how can you continue to support your child’s emotional wellbeing during this time of uncertainty?
The anxiety generated by coronavirus is substantial. One of the leading mental health charities, Mind, has seen an influx in people contacting them regarding the impact of coronavirus and lockdown, while the charity Beat Eating Disorders has seen a 30 per cent increase in demand for its Helpline services.
Rosie Weatherley, Information Content Manager at Mind, says: “Your child might be feeling a mixture of emotions about the outbreak of coronavirus, and this can be really worrying and stressful for you. Their lives have changed a lot over the past month – exams have been cancelled, they’re away from their friends, and they may feel unsafe at the prospect of catching the coronavirus.”
Richard Crellin, Policy and Research Manager (Mental Health and Wellbeing) at The Children’s Society, agrees: “For young people, whether already living with mental health conditions or not, it is a very triggering time.
“The news is full of scary statistics, schools are shut and families are feeling the pressure more than ever, so it is entirely understandable that many people are feeling fraught.”
If your child had no pre-existing mental health condition prior to COVID-19, but you are worried about their general emotional wellbeing, there are several places you can find advice:
Mind provides advice and support to empower anyone experiencing a mental health problem. It runs an Infoline which offers information and advice on mental health; you can call on 0300 123 3393, text on 86463 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Those aged 18 or over can access Mind’s ‘Elefriends’ online community. Elefriends is a safe space where people can share their story, connect with others, access Mind’s wider resources, and give support in return.
Mind also has a page dedicated to coronavirus and mental health, which includes information for older children and teens who are worried about coronavirus, and advice for how you can support your teen as the pandemic continues.
The Children’s Society works towards directly improving the lives of vulnerable children and young people and has a range of resources that could be helpful during the pandemic.
Crellin says, “Here at The Children’s Society we know that a situation like this means young people may need support in new and different ways. We have created the Covid-19 mental health and wellbeing hub on our website that has detailed information on looking after yourself at this time.”
There’s also a dedicated information and support page, which includes subjects such as emotional resilience, dealing with loneliness and practicing self-care, plus activities and worksheets on topics such as relaxation, stress and better sleep. It also offers useful resources for children and parents, including articles on coping with conflicts at home and dealing with stress.
YoungMinds is one of the UK’s leading charities fighting for children and young people’s mental health. It operates a Parents Helpline on 0808 802 5544, and you can also email using this contact form.
Your child can visit its dedicated coronavirus and mental health page for advice and signposting, including information on looking after your mental health whilst self-isolating and self-care tips. YoungMinds also has a blog where your child can hear from other young people living through the pandemic.
Emerging Minds is a research network that aims to reduce the prevalence of mental health problems in children and young people.
It has a useful advice sheet for parents and carers on supporting children and young people with worries about coronavirus. Parents and carers also have access to a webinar series in collaboration with The Mental Elf, which focuses on supporting children and young people’s mental health during the pandemic.
Childline is a free counselling service for children and young people aged 19 or under.
Your child can call their helpline on 0800 1111 to speak to a trained counsellor, or they can use its ‘1-2-1’ chat on their website if they don’t feel as though they can talk over the phone. They can also send an email from their ‘Childline locker’, which Childline endeavours to reply to within 24 hours. They must be logged into their Childline account in order to use the 1-2-1 chat service, and email.
Childline also offers plenty of other resources, including advice on distinguishing fake news and what to do if you’re worried about coronavirus. Your child also has access to message boards where they can find support from others, and can use a mood journal to log how they’re feeling. You can read Childline’s guidance on its message boards here.
Note: because of COVID-19, Childline has had to alter how it operates. Young people can currently speak to a counsellor online or on the phone from 9am to midnight.
The Mix is one of the UK’s leading support services for young people under 25.
Your child can access useful wellbeing guidance on its website, including how to support others during the pandemic, and dealing with coronavirus anxiety. If you have a young person at university or living away from home, The Mix also has information tenancy rights and financial guides, to offer a little clarity during this confusing period.
For children and young people who already have a suspected or diagnosed mental health condition, you may be worried the anxiety generated by COVID-19 is causing a backslide in their referral or recovery.
We’ve answered some of the questions you may have to offer a little clarity.
My child is referred under CAMHS – are they still operating?
The NHS’ Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services, or CAMHS, vary by region, but most are still providing ongoing support and treatment for existing cases. You can search for your local CAMHS using the NHS website. From there, you should be able to find more information about what support is available to you.
Are CAMHS offering online appointments?
In the wake of COVID-19, the majority of CAMHS appointments are carried out digitally or over the phone. If face-to-face support is required, you will be asked questions beforehand in relation to coronavirus to determine whether the appointment can go ahead.
Most CAMHS services are pausing face-to-face support for neurodevelopmental disorders such as ASD and ADHD – but some are offering online resources and information. Other regions are carrying out selected appointments digitally.
I think my child needs a CAMHS referral – what do I do?
Most CAMHS services are accepting referrals and offering assessments for severe, urgent, emergency and routine cases. There is, however, a general pause on diagnostic referrals for neurodevelopmental disorders – although this may vary depending on region.
Your child usually needs to attend a GP appointment beforehand. If your GP thinks it would be useful for your child to be referred to CAMHS, they will make a request for support explaining why they are making the referral. There is, however, an option in some regions to self-refer to the CAMHS service. If you would like to do this, contact your local CAMHS to discuss options.
Crellin says, “It is important not to make assumptions over how children and young people may be feeling. If you are concerned about your mental health, or that of a child, reach out to your GP, NHS or local service.
“It is easy to assume everything is closed during the lockdown, but this is not the case for many health services and they would not want or expect you to struggle on alone”.
Note: you should only visit your GP surgery if it is absolutely necessary. A phone call with a GP, nurse or other healthcare professional may be booked for you when requested. You can find out more on how GPs are currently operating on the NHS website.
My child is currently under residential accommodation – will COVID-19 affect this?
The government has put in place precautionary measures for those living under residential accommodation. This appears to apply to both children and adults, but we will provide an update if this changes.
So far, the government is applying the same ‘household isolation’ principles to residential care, if a resident is displaying coronavirus symptoms. They do, however, advise that providers make isolation judgments on a case-by-case basis. Whether this results in a ban on visitors remains to be seen.
We’d recommend contacting your child’s residential accommodation providers for more information on their specific measures.
Children and young people suffering with an eating disorder may be particularly affected by the pandemic. They may have concerns around how strong their immune system will be and may struggle with disrupted routines and the inability to get hold of safe foods as stockpiling continues.
Beat Eating Disorders has a dedicated page with advice for those who may be suffering as a result of the coronavirus, as well as a page for those supporting someone with an eating disorder during these extraordinary circumstances.
Your child can also access ‘The Sanctuary’, an online group created in response to coronavirus and the anxieties it could cause.
Its Helpline, Studentline and Youthline are all operating as normal.
It is too early to know what impact the coronavirus will have on mental health. It is clear, however, that the pandemic is already creating a lot of anxiety and worry in young people.
Not all is lost, though. Research from YoungMinds suggests that certain activities are beneficial for maintaining good mental health during lockdown. Video calls with friends, watching television and films, exercise, and learning new skills were all reported as ‘helpful’ activities for mental health.
Weatherley says: “If they are old enough, try to encourage them to do what they can to maintain their own wellbeing. Creating a new routine during this period of change is important and can help them to feel more secure. Try to encourage them to include activities with physical exercise in their routine and to stay virtually connected with friends and family.
She continues, “Staying at home might make a young person feel like they've lost their independence, and this will be difficult for them. Try to find ways to spend time together without always being on top of each other. For example, eating a meal together, watching a TV show in the evening or going for a walk after dinner.”
Crellin concludes, “In terms of long-term impact on mental health, it is too soon to say right now, but we know that the longer this goes on the more impact it will have on the mental wellbeing of children and young people, which is why it is vital to seek help when needed.”
Charities have seen a rise in domestic abuse since lockdown started. If children are at home more, this can increase the risk to their safety. The NSPCC helpline (0808 800 5000) offers advice and support from professional counsellors if you are worried about a child.
The NSPCC also has a page for parents and carers on family support during the pandemic, including advice on talking to children about the coronavirus and supporting SEND children.
NHS mental health hub
The NHS is offering mental health and wellbeing advice on its website.
Official government guidance
The government has offered advice for parents and carers on supporting children and young people’s mental health during the pandemic.
The government also offers more signposting for mental wellbeing during the pandemic – including primary age, secondary age, bereavement and SEND children.
If you believe a child is in immediate danger, call 999.
Mind and The Children's Society contributed to this article