Children who have overdosed or self-harmed are being treated in some London hospitals during the pandemic, with doctors warning of a “surge” in mental health cases in the young.
One child and adolescent psychiatrist has claimed the number of young people seeking help with their mental health has “sky rocketed”.
Dr Omer Moghraby said: “I’ve seen a couple of young people who have presented to A&E who have taken overdoses, who have cut themselves severely.
“Some have changed their patterns of eating so severely that they have lost a lot of weight and our medical colleagues are treating to save their lives.
“The closure of schools, the lack of contact with friends and stopping all sports activities is having a particularly damaging effect on children.
“One can only say the major factor across it all is pandemic – the lack of activities, the lack of schooling, the lack of opportunities for these young people and probably a deterioration of wellbeing of their parents not being able to cope.”
Dr Omer said he was in no doubt the pandemic was driving a surge in mental health referrals in under 18s.
And clinicians in southeast London believe warnings about a looming mental health crisis among all age groups in Britain are coming true.
The Oxleas NHS Foundation Trust has seen a 30% increase in calls to its 24/7 crisis lines compared to pre-pandemic levels.
It has also seen referrals to its psychological therapies go up by 280% since the pandemic began.
Matthew Trainer, the foundation’s CEO, said: “When the pandemic started to unfold last March and the first lockdown came into place, what we actually saw was a reduction in the number of people turning up to emergency departments in crisis because of their mental health.
“But what we did see is a significant increase in the number of calls to our crisis lines.
“So these are people who are at home, who were probably known to our services, but who were ringing up saying we need help.”
The impact of successive lockdowns, the isolation and future uncertainty is affecting everyone in some way.
Dr Derek Tracy looks after adult mental health care in Bexley and says he is already seeing a rise in people seeking help who have never experienced mental health problems before.
“You seem to get a triple hit with COVID,” he said.
“On one hand people’s stresses are up, people are worried about their health, their family’s health, maybe their employment and finances.
“People’s resources are also down and things they might have done to cope with that, like dinner with friends or play football or go to the cinema, you can’t do that.
“I do think we are going to have a surge in coming months. I think what is really hard to see is how long that’s going to last and how deeply that’s going to last.”
Psychiatrist Dr Abi Fadipe is concerned vulnerable, elderly people with dementia are not being referred as soon as they can be.
“Any kind of intervention that we would have put in as an early intervention may not work so you need something different,” she said.
“So you may spend a longer period of time in hospitals, you may have to use more medication than you would have usually used and they may lose the opportunity to go back home.”
Dr Fadipe said the isolation of lockdown could also see a rise in dementia cases.
“The prevalence of dementia was increasing anyway due to various factors.
“But isolation leading to low mood and depression can be a precipitator for developing dementia.”
Anyone feeling emotionally distressed or suicidal can call Samaritans for help on 116 123 or email [email protected] or talk to CALM on 0800 58 58 58 or via webchat on thecalmzone.net.
Other phone numbers you can ring for help:
Young Minds – 0800 108 2138
The National Domestic Abuse helpline – 0808 2000 247
ChildLine – 0800 1111
Anxiety UK – 03444 775 774
Mind – 0300 123 3393
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