Cost-of-living crisis replaces COVID as lead cause of children’s anxiety

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In a survey, 51 percent of children and young people said money worries had made them feel angry, unhappy, negative, anxious or stressed in the last three months – a 35 percent rise on at the same time last year. The figures come ahead of a House of Lords hearing tomorrow which will highlight the devastating impact of the cost-of-living crisis on young people.

It will also highlight problems that children face getting mental health support through Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS).

The new figures show the crisis – with inflation, energy costs and shopping bills outstripping wage levels – has replaced Covid and lockdown restrictions as the primary cause of poor mental health for young people.

Experts fear the sharp rise in anxiety will heap further pressures on CAMHS, which is already struggling.

In some areas the waiting time for specialist help stretches beyond a year.

The Beano Brain survey, which tracks the feelings of 11 to 25-year-olds across the UK every month, found a large proportion of young people are feeling negative emotions.

Some 56 percent had suffered negative emotions, with 41 percent feeling stressed and 51 percent anxious. The same proportion said the negative emotions infected everyday life, with disrupted sleep and eating habits the main areas impacted.

There are now record figures for the number of children dealing with mental health issues and delays to services.

The Sunday Express – along with a range of mental health charities – is campaigning for more community hubs to be set up, where children can access early help and counselling before their problems escalate.

Kadra Abdinasir, from Centre for Mental Health, will be highlighting the cost-of-living crisis in the Lords tomorrow. She said: “We are seeing the entrenched inequalities highlighted in the pandemic beginning to bite.

“Children growing up in poverty are three to four times more likely to experience mental health problems.

“So more young people will experience worse mental health as a result of the current cost-of-living crisis.

“NHS figures also show that children living in homes that have fallen behind in bills are more likely to develop mental health problems. Children are aware of the anxiety parents face around mounting debts, the threatening letters and final warnings. Bailiffs still visit homes where children live. It affects them.

“It comes at a time when the energy cap will be raised and lots of families will have to decide between heating or eating. If we can minimise the drivers of mental health problems – such as poverty – we would need fewer services.”

Dr Fiona Smith, from Footsteps, a clinic for 11 to 19-year-olds in Teesside, said: “Since the pandemic, referrals have more than doubled and the cost-of-living crisis is only going to make it worse.

“We are seeing a big increase in young people with anxiety issues, low mood, eating disorders, self-harming and suicidal thoughts.”

Footsteps, in Stockton-on-Tees, was established after consultation with young people in the area but its funding is subject to a review announced in September. “There needs to be more funding for services for young people,” said Dr Smith.

“It can be disheartening because you want to help them so badly but there is not enough support there. They have to fit into criteria for support but young people just don’t fit into boxes – they have lots of things going on that change from day to day.”

Olly Parker, head of external affairs at YoungMinds, said: “The survey shows us clearly how deeply affected young people are by the issues facing the country.

“Many are unlikely to meet the threshold for support from the NHS or other services but they still need a place to turn to when things get hard for them.

“If we don’t give young people the support they need, when they need it, the consequences can be catastrophic.

“Those leading the country must fund a network of early support hubs in every community, where children and young people can turn up without needing a referral and get help and support.”

Dr Alex George said: “As Youth Mental Health Ambassador I can’t stress enough how valuable these early support hubs will be. We must move towards early intervention so young people get help before problems are harder to tackle.”

The Government said: “We are supporting people with the rising cost of living by giving eight million of the most vulnerable households £1,200 each, as well as £400 for all domestic electricity customers. We have invested £79million into children’s mental health services and rolled out 287 support teams in thousands of schools and colleges.”

Relaxed drop-in hub that offers early support before issues become long-term

The display windows curve around a large, enviable corner plot on a busy junction. A thriving supermarket, shops and coffee houses attract a stream of customers while children pass by on their way home from school.

It is a regular high street but the statement building is home to a new brand of mental health service that positions help and hope at the heart of a community.

It washes away the forbidding formality of clinic and hospital rooms in favour of an open-door policy that is connecting youngsters to fast-track support.

The UK is struggling to deal with record levels of mental health issues among children at a time of strained resources and lengthening waiting times for help.

The NHS and support groups have been swamped with pleas for help. In November last year 500,000 young people attended a mental health appointment or were seen by NHS mental health services – 665 every hour.

The Nest is an antidote, pairing struggling children and parents with the help they need before their issues become long-term.

“Early intervention is vital and a big missing piece in the jigsaw of mental health,” says Irene Brown-Martin, clinical lead at the centre, which delivers services to an inner-city London area.

“We are seeing more young people in distress who are developing serious conditions.

“Unless we put in adequate support they will only get worse.

“The pandemic has made things difficult. We have very young children who, if they don’t get help, will in five years’ time need more support from already stretched mental health services.”

The Nest, funded by Southwark Council and run by the charity Groundwork London, launched in May 2020. It employs a range of experts who work with people aged up to 25.They provide support services, such as music and art therapy for schools, including working with parents.

Youngsters can self-refer or just drop-in for help, at a time when Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) have 18-month waiting lists in some parts of the country.

The entrance doors open to a bright, airy space with relaxed seating and separate rooms providing privacy for counselling, group sessions and course work.

The atmosphere is a world away from the clinical and is designed to “de-stress” those moments when people seek help.

The Sunday Express has been at the forefront of a campaign for early intervention hubs in every community.The Nest is one of more than 60 centres now helping re-frame the approach to youth mental health.The Government has vowed to reach more children with mental health support and is considering funding the hubs.

Service manager Hannah Kashman says: “The beauty of our service is that our open access encourages youngsters to make that first step.We are based in the community and people can find us online and submit an inquiry form. It is quick and easy.”

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Irene, a psychotherapist who has worked in child mental health for 15 years, adds: “We are seeing a lot of self-harm and suicidal ideation – there is a lot of distress out there and it is not just the children.Their parents also don’t know who to turn to. Lockdowns have had a huge impact on young people’s mental health in terms of anxiety and low mood, and some parents cannot help them because they are struggling themselves.

“The fact that young people can walk through the door and say, ‘Hey, I’m struggling with my mental health’ or email us to ask for help is critical to them, and their families, being able to cope.

“Every high street should have a service like this.”

The link between poor mental health, school exclusion and prison is in many reports. It is also shown to damage quality of life, health and life expectancy.

Olly Parker, head of external affairs atYoungMinds, said: “There is an unprecedented crisis in young people’s mental health, worsened by Covid, with record numbers seeking help.The pandemic brought young people isolation from friends and family, disruption to education and work, and reduced access to support.

“This was on top of a system struggling to cope with demand even before the pandemic.

“The work atThe Nest shows just how effective the few early intervention hubs that exist are, and how popular they are among young people – which is why it is so crucial that a hub exists at the heart of every community.”

Alex Myrie (not her real name), 25, attended The Nest and took part in a 12-week therapy course. She was suffering from anxiety and depression after a period of substance abuse.

“Going to The Nest has allowed me to be more in control of my daily life. I’ve been taught methods and ways to reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression over the 12 weeks.

“They have also made it possible for me to think about my future and the goals that I want to achieve.

“I attended therapy once a week and that meant that for one hour I got to talk to someone who is non-judgmental and there to help. It is a huge relief to be able to speak to someone about problems that you otherwise might not want to, due to fear of embarrassment. I’ve learned how to identify signs of anxiety and deal with the symptoms as they come up.

“I firmly believe we do not discuss our mental health enough and The Nest and places like it are really a beacon of light in this regard. The service is fantastic and much needed.”

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