By Cate McCurry, PA
The pandemic will lead to a “tsunami” of mental health issues among children and young people, campaigners have warned.
As the toll of Covid restrictions is laid bare, the chief executive of the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (ISPCC) said children will continue to face “acute” mental health challenges related to Covid.
John Church said that from October 2019 to September 2020, the charity received more than 240,000 contacts from children and young people, while its one-to-one service worked with 458 children.
He said children spoke of how anxious, unhappy and lonely they felt.
The @ISPCCChildline Support Line is available to provide guidance, support and information to parents and carers at this time and always. Monday to Friday, 9am to 1pm.
Visit: https://t.co/1Qa4NzrDU6 pic.twitter.com/1YJc0aCpV1
— ISPCC Childline (@ISPCCChildline) October 20, 2021
“There will be a tsunami of mental health issues,” Mr Church added.
“Everybody will encounter adverse childhood events and this [Covid] is a significant event.
“The anxiety levels and tensions were through the roof – in the first week of the lockdown in March last year, there was a 30 per cent increase in calls to Childline.
“There was a lot about fear of getting the virus and loved ones and grandparents getting it.
“The mental health impact of Covid-19 featured heavily across these services.”
Between the closure of schools in March 2020 and late June of last year, the Childline website experienced an increase in users of more than 100 per cent.
“Between March 2020 and July 2020, our listening services answered over 2,500 contacts from children seeking support around their mental and emotional wellbeing,” Mr Church said.
“In addition, we answered over 600 contacts from children who spoke with us about suicide.”
Barnardos chief executive Suzanne Connolly said the charity worked with almost 18,000 children and their families last year.
“Since the onset of the pandemic 18 months ago, we know that children have been among the groups most adversely impacted,” Ms Connolly said.
“It has caused huge disruption to their lives and brought about significant uncertainty and adversity, affecting their overall wellbeing.
“The impact of Covid is not equal across all children. Many of the children we work with experience a huge amount of adversity in their lives.
“They are living with violence, addiction, mental health and other factors that impact on their wellbeing.
“Covid has been an additional adversity which becomes layered on top of their current challenges.
“Unfortunately, the pandemic has exacerbated most of these issues, in particular those facing parents.”
She said Covid is like a “pressure cooker” for families.
1/ It's important when thinking about children’s mental health we consider it in the context of their wider circumstances. In particular their relationships, with their parents, siblings and peers etc. often the root cause of poor mental health. #seeforyourself
— Barnardos Ireland (@Barnardos_IRL) October 20, 2021
“For example, throughout Covid across our services we saw parents deal with worsening mental health, increased substance use and conflict within the home,” Ms Connolly added.
“This has inevitably led to some parents struggling to cope themselves.
“We see on a daily basis that Covid has led to increased mental health issues for children.
“Across our services, we have sadly seen how Covid has exacerbated stress and mental health issues for children who were already experiencing anxiety and who were struggling to manage their emotions.”
Solidarity-People Before Profit TD Gino Kenny said there was a sense of fear at the onset of the pandemic.
Mr Kenny said there will be legacy issues for children.
Mr Church said he wants to see the Government increase funding in mental health services.
“Our supports for children are way off,” he added.
“The waiting lists are unacceptable and we need to act quickly as these events will impact society later in life.”