In the last year, over 350,000 young people accessed NHS Mental Health Services, and in any given year, roughly 110,00 14-year-olds will self-harm. With so many children struggling with various mental health issues before the COVID-19 outbreak, one can only wonder what impact the global pandemic has had on the mental wellbeing of young people, especially those in care.
As young people are amongst the largest group to struggle with mental health repercussions due to the pandemic, they need as much professional and informal support as they can get. In order to help them achieve a positive transition into adulthood, we all have a duty to do what we can, when we see a child struggling with anxiety.
The impact of restricted mental health support services
Before the emergence of 2020’s global pandemic, children in Britain had access to therapists, psychologists as well as various other means of support they were accessing for mental health issues. With lockdown restrictions and social distancing, these essential services for children transitioned to remote and online support. Despite this, the lack of professionals available and the overwhelming amounts of work key-workers are undertaking, many of these sessions have been postponed.
This sequence of events only fuels the fires of anxiety, which if left to spiral out of control, can consume a young mind as they dive deeper into depression, potentially leading to self-harm. This means that any child who struggled with anxiety before the Coronavirus, will now have struggle severely without the network of support they previously had.
What happens when children experience more anxiety and less support is available?
Disrupted routines, worries about loved ones becoming ill from the Coronavirus, a lack of social support which previously helped them manage their disorder, and their usual physical activities and outdoor hobbies getting suspended. These are all incredibly anxiety-inducing and compounded by the fact that even the time off from school can be enough to drive children dealing with difficult situations at home over the edge.
This is why those who have young children displaying signs of anxiety or staff working with children in care need to be hypervigilant when picking up the signs, and know what to do in order to help.
Practical Ways to Help Children Anxious About the Coronavirus
Encourage them to express their feelings
If children have trouble talking about their worries, it might be easier for them to write them down, so you can review what’s on their mind later. Encouraging young children to talk about their feeling can be a good catharsis for them. If they are younger, getting them involved in play or hobbies can be a great way to encourage them to open up.
Go in prepared
Tragedies such as deaths caused by the virus can be extremely difficult for children to process, let alone communicate their grief. If the child you are speaking to is anxious about someone they love dying from the virus, Childline has a great article on how to talk to young people when someone they know dies.
Set the example
Children and teens are highly perceptive, and what has the biggest impact on them is how you communicate and your own behaviour. When they see adults acting calmly, this is a clear signal to the child that they are safe, and that there is no need to worry. Young people can often sense parents or carers’ anxieties. So, do remember to be mindful of this before approaching a child in care. Stepping outside to breathe deeply and taking a moment to pause can be very helpful.
Practice active listening and make them feel validated
Listening actively is an essential skill for all those in contact with young children. Asking non-judgemental and emphatic questions, whilst showing that you are genuinely interested in hearing how they feel is really important. Validation comes with not dismissing what they have to say or rejecting their emotions. This helps them feel understood, and in turn, they will be able to open up more.
Look at the facts
Anxiety can often become overwhelming. When a child becomes anxious, it is crucial to encourage children to sit with it instead of distracting themselves. We should help them realise that even though it’s uncomfortable, their anxiety won’t harm them and cannot hurt them. We should also help them to separate the facts from their ‘what if’s’, as there can be many concerns around coronavirus that have no substance.
Know when it’s time to get professional help
Knowing when to go to a professional therapist or psychologist can be extremely useful, especially when helping a vulnerable group like children in care. When a young person’s anxiety becomes disordered and begins to interfere with a child’s sleep, eating habits or interactions, it’s important to get help and reach out, especially during this stressful period.
If you are working with children in care within semi-independent accommodation, utilising these methods can be really helpful. No matter what the setting however, anxiety within children can be complex, and knowing the right ways to help them deal with their worries and fears can help them overcome any disorder in a more positive and constructive way.