WHILE seemingly immune to the physical effects of Covid, with mercifully few deaths or long-term complications, it seems children’s mental health has deteriorated significantly as a result of the pandemic.

The most commonly quoted study, from NHS Digital, advises that the incidence of childhood mental health illnesses in those aged 5-16 including anxiety, depression and conduct disorders, has risen from one in nine in 2017, to one in six in 2020.

Worrying figures indeed. Referrals to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) for eating disorders have more than doubled since the first lockdown, and reports from the front line advise of children as young as eight being brought to A+E after self-harm, with presentations in some areas up from one or two per week to one or two a day, typically in regions where lockdowns have been longer, with harsher restrictions and disruption greater.

While many articles comment on the impact of lost schooling on long-term prospects, a survey by Parentkind UK, shows parents are more concerned about the effect of the pandemic on their children’s happiness and wellbeing as opposed to the effect on educational achievement. 49% of respondents voiced their primary concern being that their children were unable to socialise, 45% reported worries about their children’s mental health, with only 30% siting the disruption of traditional education as their foremost worry.

School is much more than a place to learn. It provides a routine five days a week, somewhere to interact with peers. For children living in turbulent environments, it may be their haven of calm, the only place where they get a regular meal and emotional warmth.

To any parent reading this article, the most vital message I can give is that no one expects you to diagnose or treat your child. However you are likely to be the person who spots warning signs such as anger, irritability, tearfulness and withdrawal.

Sometimes a simple are you alright?, voiced with genuine concern and empathy, may be the way into a discussion.

Reassurance may be difficult to give, particularly if you have been a victim of the pandemic in any way. Children are great observers of parental behaviour. Aspiring to be the best we can be for their sake can be a very tall order, so if you feel your own mental health is suffering, please do not ignore this.