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Warwickshire self-harm rates in young people spike as post-pandemic mental health crisis hits

Lockdown restrictions may soon be ending, but the impact of the pandemic on our lives will continue in various forms for years to come. One of those areas is mental health. Gill Sutherland examines the effects of Covid on children’s wellbeing while a mum shares her story. On the back of the increase in school closures and children having to isolate, experts warn that mental health in young people is a “crisis on top of a crisis”.

Recent research suggests one in six children now has a mental health issue, while the 61,000 referrals to children and young people’s mental health services in England last November was a record high. It represents a 139% increase from the same period in 2017.

Claire Gibb, a Stratford district school counsellor, warned: “In addition to the normal stressors of growing up, the coronavirus pandemic is massively affecting children and young people and increasing the amount of stress that they come under.

“As a school counsellor for young people this has been clearly evident. The unpredictability of normal life has meant a big increase in worries and anxieties and low mood. This has affected us all in varying degrees, but for young people the effect has been profound.

“Trying to understand what’s happening in the world is daunting – is school on today? Should I revise fore exams? Do I need to isolate? Young people find themselves trying to combat so many unknown situations which leads to an increase in mental health issues.”

Bernadka Dubicka, chair of the child and adolescent faculty at the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said the Covid pandemic had highlighted and intensified an existing problem in child mental health. “We’ve got a crisis on top of a crisis,” she said. “We had a pre-existing crisis in child and adolescent mental health before the pandemic. The indications are things just got much more difficult for many children and families, and also for the staff trying to provide services.

Worryingly South Warwickshire already has a high rate of self-harm among young people, with 587.4 incidences per 100K population; which is more than 33 per cent above the England average.

By contrast, only around one per cent of the Coventry and Warwickshire Clinical Commissioning Group’s budget is spent on mental health provision for young people.

One local teacher, who declined to be named, backed demands to reassess the need for schools to continually isolate whole bubbles – which can be hundreds in a single year group because one child has tested positive for covid.

They said: “According to statistics the risk of dying from Covid as a young person is infinitesimal, but the self-harm data speaks for itself. For young people we are potentially looking at more of them dying from suicide than Covid. That’s the grim reality.”

Warwickshire County Council provide a number counselling and referral services.

Acknowledging the problems facing young people, Margaret Bell, Portfolio Holder for Adult Social Care and Health, said: “Life is particularly hard for so many young people since the pandemic began and the effect that has had on mental health is something that we, as a council, consider an issue that must remain at the top of our agenda. For some, the difficulties of recent times have really led them to feel low.

"Health and social care professionals across the region are committed to help with the mental health of children and young people and have been working hand in hand to shape and provide support where and when it is needed. This approach is supported by Warwickshire’s Health and Wellbeing Board which aims to improve mental health and access to information.

“We urge the public to join health, social care, education and the community sector to improve mental health for everyone in our communities by looking out for loved ones, taking some time to talk, and finding out where to go if more specialist help is needed. It's okay not to feel okay but together we may be able to make life a little easier and give people hope that things will get better.”

Where to get help

For people in crisis who need to talk to someone, the RISE helpline is available free 24 hours a day on 08081 966 798, offering options for adults and teenagers. Kooth.com provides free online counselling and support to young people aged 11-25 years old.

Warwickshire Safe Haven offers mental health support to anyone aged 16+ is open between 6pm – 11pm to provide reassuring support to those finding life difficult. Telephone Number: 02477 714554 or Text 07970 042270 (Open 6pm – 11am)

Papyrus Suicide Prevention for under-35s 0800 068 4141

Childline 0800 1111

Samaritans 116 123

Nikki’s story: one mum talks about her daughter’s mental health crisis

MY journey to understanding mental health illnesses started five years ago with my 14-year-old teenage daughter.

When our daughter started secondary school she had a bit of a bumpy ride settling in. In Year 8 things seem to settle down a bit and she started to make a few friends, but by the beginning of Year 9 things took a tumble for the worse.

She became rather recluse, staying in her room and not socialising with us much. We did put this down to being a teenager/hormones changing and as she is our first born.

Out of the blue I got a call at work from somone on the school pastoral team: I needed to come immediately to school to collect my daughter as they were very concerned about her. It transpired that our daughter had informed them that she has tried to jump off a car park building but had been stopped by a passer-by, and she came home instead (it was my birthday so she felt she ought to).

This was my welcome to the world of mental health and obtaining the help we required for our ‘happy’ daughter wasn’t as easy as I thought. Our GP was pretty useless so I went down the private route. I ended up begging a child psychiatrist to meet her that week, who diagnosed her with severe depression and anxiety and suggested that we treat her with antidepressants as well as therapy.

A week later our daughter took a massive overdose (more than 60 tablets) which she didn’t tell us about until she collapsed in my arms six hours later…

A frantic night in hospital and the following day spent being quizzed by CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services ) as to how I could not have noticed her doing this, they agreed that she could be taken on by them.

She spent four months in a hospital unit and tried to take her life two more times whilst she was in there. It was very tough going for us all to see her there and to see such little progression taking place. She also at this stage started to have an eating disorder too.

Skipping to Years 10 and 11, our daughter regularly missed school with days that she could not cope, but her school was extremely supportive and made it possible for her to see her psychiatrist at any time.

She started her A-levels but found her anxiety and depression was becoming worse and felt she needed respite help again. CAMHS agreed and she spent another four months in a unit, miles away from home. She was also diagnosed with body dysmorphic disorder.

Once therapy treatment began, we did see some improvement.

My daughter is still on medication, but stable, and studying at university.

I’m immensely proud of what she has overcome – I am proud of how open she is with us and that nothing is a taboo subject. It’s made us closer as a family unit – understanding what we can do to help her and that mental health is nothing to be ashamed about.

It has felt a long journey and it certainly has not been without some major ups and downs.

I wish I had found the Parenting Mental Health support group when our journey first started as it is a deep dark hole, not just dealing with our children’s emotional needs but also knowing how the NHS system works and our rights and options as parents.

Find out more at www.parentingmentalhealth.com.

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