Extended coronavirus lockdowns having severe negative effect on mental health of children – report
03/17/2021 // Arsenio Toledo // Views

According to a report by the United Kingdom's National Health Service, mental health problems in children are on the rise due to the devastating toll of extended Wuhan coronavirus (COVID-19) lockdowns.

The "Mental Health of Children and Young People in England 2020" is a report produced by NHS Digital in cooperation with the Office for National Statistics, a statistics agency that reports directly to the British parliament.

The report has been collecting data on 3,000 young people all over England since 2017. Its latest findings, published in fall 2020, show that one in every six children between the ages of five to 16 in England had "a probably mental health disorder." This is up from one in every nine children in 2017.

For boys between five to 10, 17.9 percent of them had a probable mental health disorder. Boys from 11 to 16 had a 15.3 percent chance of having a mental health disorder.

Girls between the ages of five to 10 were the least likely to have a probable mental health concern at 10.8 percent, but older girls 11 to 16 years of age had the highest rates, at 20.1 percent.

Children involved in the research cited concerns regarding tensions in the family, financial trouble, fear of the coronavirus and a strong feeling of being isolated from their friends. (Related: Lockdowns, masks destroying mental health of children and young people.)

The report also found that more than half of the young people the study followed had recurring feelings of anxiety, the highest level of anxiety in young people the NHS had ever recorded. Jonathan Townsend, Chief Executive of The Prince's Trust, the personal charity of Britain's Prince Charles, said that young people are "losing all hope for their future."


School closure large part of the problem

Many public health experts believe that closing down schools during lockdown is unnecessary and is exacerbating the problem. Schools are not just a place of learning for kids, they are also places where they can socialize, develop emotionally and, for kids that come from troubled families, seek refuge.

"When we close schools, we close their lives," said Professor Russell Viner, president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, during a meeting with the British parliament's Education Select Committee.

According to Viner's testimony, children all over the U.K. are experiencing a "range of harms" including social isolation, loneliness, sleep problems and reduced physical activity due to the school closures.

All organized outdoor sport has been banned in the U.K., with the exception of organized sporting events for children under the age of 12 in Scotland. This ban has baffled public health experts given the very low risk of transmission outdoors and the clear benefits sports has for the physical and emotional wellbeing of children.

But public health officials were also quick to point out that closing schools alone is not the culprit, it's the lockdown itself. The stress of the pandemic and the extended lockdown, along with rising unemployment rates and financial insecurity has put too much strain on children's home life.

The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, a child-focused charity, runs a hotline to provide counseling. According to their data, the amount of counseling they have had to provide for loneliness has risen by 10 percent since the start of the pandemic.

"I feel really sad and lonely," said one 16-year-old who called the hotline for help. "Most days I find myself just lost in my own thoughts and feeling numb."

One in seven young people around the world have experienced living in lockdown

According to the United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF), around 332 million children – or one in every seven kids around the world– has had to live under a required or recommended nationwide stay-at-home order for at least nine months since the coronavirus pandemic began. UNICEF has warned that this is putting their mental health and general wellbeing at serious risk.

According to UNICEF, which used data from Oxford University's COVID-19 Government Response Tracker, 139 million children globally have been stuck at home for at least nine months due to required lockdown orders since the global coronavirus pandemic was characterized as a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO) on Mar. 11, 2020. Some countries UNICEF mentioned where kids were required to stay at home include Peru, Paraguay and Nigeria.

The remaining 193 million children have had to live under recommended lockdown orders for the same amount of time.

"With nationwide lockdowns and pandemic-related movement restrictions, it has been a long year for all of us, but especially the children," said Henrietta Fore, executive director of UNICEF. "When, day after day, you are away from your friends and distant loved ones – and perhaps even stuck at home with an abuser – the impact is significant. Many children are left feeling afraid, lonely, anxious and concerned for their future.

"We must emerge from this pandemic with a better approach to child and adolescent mental health, and that starts by giving the issue the attention it deserves," she added.

According to data gathered from the WHO, due to lockdowns, 93 percent of critical mental health services around the world have been disrupted or halted outright, while demand for mental health support has only increased.

"If we did not fully appreciate the urgency [of mental healthcare] prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, surely we do now," said Fore. "Countries must dramatically invest in expanded mental health services and support for young people and their caregivers in communities and schools. We also need scaled-up parenting programs to ensure that children from vulnerable families get the support and protection they need at home."

Learn more about how coronavirus lockdowns have severely affected the mental health of children around the world by reading the latest articles at Pandemic.news.

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