Children are 'hidden victims' of Covid-19 pandemic: Leeds-based charity's fears

Childline fears children are the "hidden victims" of the Covid-19 pandemic amid concerns the lockdown will have a lasting impact on youngsters' mental health.

Saturday, 6th June 2020, 6:00 am

More than half of the weekly 4,000 calls from children and young people to Leeds-based charity Childline during the Covid-19 pandemic are related to mental health concerns.

It is concerned that during lockdown some vulnerable children may be suffering abuse at home which could have been discovered if they were going to school and mixing with friends.

The number of children and young people logging on to one of Leeds-based Childline's online help pages has quadrupled since the Coronavirus lockdown started.

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Childline's online Calm Zone page registered 10,000 unique visitiors last week compared to just 2,400 per week in early March.

The page offers support with emotional and mental health and has advice with how children can manage their anxieties.

Helen Westerman, the head of local campaigns for the NSPCC which runs Childline, said: "It is going to be about how schools and health services support kids coming out of this.

"There will be children who have seen and experienced things during this pandemic that will have an impact.

"Children who have been exposed to domestic abuse and parents taking drugs.

"They may be physically or sexually abused and that may have been picked up on when going to school or by other services, but these kids are hidden at the minute.

"We are calling kids the hidden victims of this. The effects of lockdown, no school, lack of routine and being indoors 24/7 will have a real impact on children's wellbeing."

Ms Westerman added: "Schools have been shut and youth services have been shut, so it's not surprising that more and more young people are turning to a trusted place like Childline."

A Suicide prevention charity has warned of a "longer-term problem of emotional distress" for young people.

Ged Flynn, chief executive of Papyrus Prevention of Young Suicide, said around nine in 10 calls, texts and emails to its Hopeline service since lockdown referenced coronavirus, with children and young adults concerned about their own mental health or about the livelihood of loved ones.

He said there has been a particular surge in the last two weeks, with many concerned about a loss of income, reduction in service provision, domestic violence and abuse, and the potential to become infected with Covid-19.

Mr Flynn said: "There is concern in the charity that there will be a longer-term problem of emotional distress post-lockdown.

"I fear that a whole generation of young people may feel the impact of the current crisis for a good while yet.

"We are already taking high volumes of calls, texts and emails from young people every day with thoughts of suicide or from those who fear for somebody in their family or place of work who may have. Call rates are now increasing.

Tom Madders, director of campaigns at charity YoungMinds, said: “We know that many children and young people have struggled to adjust to the changes that have come about from the coronavirus pandemic.

"Whether that’s because they miss friends, are struggling to manage without the structure of school, or have lost their coping mechanisms or professional support, the crisis has put added pressure on many young people

“What happens now will have a lasting impact on young people’s mental health, for years to come - whether that's because of traumatic experiences at home, the pressures of isolation, or a breakdown in the support that gives them hope.

Stephen Buckley, Head of Information at mental health charity Mind, said: “Demand for the mental health services provided by Mind has been unprecedented during the coronavirus pandemic, with more than a million people accessing our online information on coronavirus and mental health, and a surge in the number of people seeking support through our online community, since the crisis began."

Dr Gwyn Elias, GP and clinical lead for mental health for NHS Leeds Clinical Commissioning Group, said: “During the peak of COVID-19 we saw a reduction in people accessing health services including support for emotional health and wellbeing either because of concerns around picking up an infection or not wanting to be a burden on the NHS.

“We want to remind people that the NHS is here for you and that you should call your GP if you’re not feeling well – mentally or physically.

“If you have had previous contact with specialist mental health services in Leeds, you may have a crisis plan with contact details.

" If you don’t have a crisis plan or are unable to find it you can call the single point of access team on 0300 300 1485. If your life is in immediate danger call 999 now.”