Six mental health flags parents should look out for as children go back to school
A top NHS doctor has issued a warning to parents whose children are returning to school as the coronavirus lockdown is eased from Monday.
Dr Prathiba Chitsabesan has urged families to monitor pupils for any signs of anxiety, distress or low mood.
She said the Covid-19 lockdown put increased pressure on many families as they were told to keep their children away from their friends to curb the spread of the virus.
But the return to school may cause anxiety for some pupils after months away, warned Dr Chitsabesan, NHS England’s top doctor for children and young people’s mental health.
Those who would like to return but remain stuck at home could feel left out or isolated, she added.
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Dr Chitsabesan said: “Children and young people may be experiencing a variety of feelings in response to the coronavirus pandemic, including anxiety, distress and low mood, and it is important to understand that these are normal responses to an abnormal situation.
“The NHS offers a large amount of mental health support for children and young people, and if a child needs urgent mental health support or advice, check nhs.uk for services in your area, including 24/7 crisis support.”
NHS England said parents can take simple steps to help their sons or daughters who might be struggling to deal with the loneliness and uncertainty of lockdown or fears about returning to school.
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It has told parents what to look out for and what steps they can take to look after their child’s mental health.
The advice is from clinicians and also based on first-hand experience from patients and parents.
Signs that parents should look out for include:
– You might find they are more upset or find it hard to manage their emotions
– They may appear anxious or distressed
– Increasing trouble with sleeping and eating
– Appearing low in mood, withdrawn or tearful
– Reporting worried or negative thoughts about themselves or their future
– For younger children, there may be more bed wetting
If a parent is worried about their child’s mental health, they can help by:
– Making time to talk to your child
– Allow your child to talk about their feelings
– Try to understand their problems and provide reassurance that you have heard them and are there to help
– Help your child do positive activities
– Try to keep a routine over the next few weeks
– Look after your own mental health
Parents should contact NHS 111 online or a GP immediately if they notice any physical injuries on a child, such as deep cuts or burns, said NHS England.
They can also turn to Rise Above, a website created with young people, and MindEd, a free educational resource for parents and professionals working with children, for help.
Claire Murdoch, NHS England’s national mental health director, said: “We know that children and young people’s lives have been disrupted during these uncertain times, and some may be suffering from anxiety as schools reopen.
“The NHS is open for business as usual and has adapted to the coronavirus crisis through offering flexible options including phone and video consultations and online support.”
Tom Madders, campaigns director at YoungMinds,added: “School can provide routine, structure and a chance for children to connect and learn, which can all be positive for mental health – but for some children, returning will be a confusing and overwhelming experience, especially if the environment feels different to how it was before.
“Some children who aren’t yet returning to school may also be struggling with social isolation or uncertainty about what the future holds.”
Mental Health Minister Nadine Dorries said: “As many children start to return to school, it’s vital we continue to give them the support they need to maintain their mental health and wellbeing and deal with any feelings of uncertainty or worry they may be experiencing.
“The NHS remains there for those who need it and our mental health services are adapting to best support families and children as we all get used to these changes in routine.
“We also recently provided over £9 million to leading mental health charities to help them expand and reach those most in need.
“I urge any families and children in need of guidance and advice or crisis support to contact their GP or visit the NHS website.”