Coronavirus: Children with mental health issues more likely to be 'adversely affected' by lockdown, says psychiatrist

'Parents and carers have a very important role to play', says psychiatrist

Sarah Young
Monday 20 April 2020 08:20 BST
How to feel less anxious about coronavirus

Children with pre-existing mental health issues are likely to struggle during the coronavirus lockdown, a psychiatrist says.

Following the closure of schools across the UK due to the Covid-19 pandemic, children have seen their usual daily routines disrupted and have become separated from their peer groups.

While the changes could have a negative impact on many children, Dr Elaine Lockhart, of the Royal College of Psychiatrists (RCPsych) in Scotland, said young people who are already struggling with their mental health will be more likely to suffer and will need additional support and planning for returning to school.

“Children and young people with existing anxiety disorders, eating disorders, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and psychosis are more likely to be adversely affected by the Covid-19 pandemic,” Dr Lockhart said.

“This will be due to the anxiety they and others feel about the virus which will increase symptoms of anxiety and distress.

“Children and young people will both be affected, but generally young people have more severe mental health disorders than children and often their coping strategies include seeing friends and activities which are curtailed at the moment.”

The expert added that children will be affected by how their parents and carers are coping and that thinking about the wellbeing of the whole family is important.

“Parents and carers have a very important role to play supporting children and young people with mental health disorders and children in particular will be largely affected by how their parents and carers are coping, so thinking about the well-being of the whole family is important - such as a good routine, daily exercise and involvement in helpful activities like cooking and baking, etc,” she said.

Dr Lockhart continued by explaining that there are lots of helpful resources for families to access regarding how to maintain good mental health such as the Young Scot website.

She also said that the current situation exacerbates the impact of social deprivation, with those living in difficult circumstances facing more of a challenge to maintain their wellbeing.

“Children living in households where there is poverty, alcohol or substance misuse, abuse and neglect and parental poor health and disability are more likely to develop mental health disorders and at the moment will not have access to their usual support within education and social services,” Dr Lockhart explained.

“Children and young people with learning disability and severe autism find it difficult to have a huge change to their daily routine and families find it hard to care for them 24/7 without the direct input from services which offer education, extracurricular activities and respite.”

However, she said that conversely some children and young people who struggle with day to day life because they have a learning disability, autism or severe anxiety are finding the current lockdown easier than normal life and will find it comforting to have their parents at home all day.

Dr Lockhart said children affected by the lockdown will need thoughtful planning and support from the full range of children's services to help them get back into school and their previous activities.

“All of us working in children's services will need to work together to identify those most in need with their mental health and offer interventions to reduce suffering and improve life chances,” she said.

Last month, child counselling service Childline reported a sharp rise in the number of calls it was receiving from distressed young people struggling to deal with the pandemic and the impact it is having on their lives.

According to figures released at the end of March, Childline had delivered more than 900 sessions to children worried about the coronavirus.

Almost two-thirds (597) of the Childline sessions took place between 16 and 22 March, while the peak was 18 March, when Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced school closures. There were 121 calls that day.

You can find tips on how to keep children healthy, happy and learning during school closures here.

If you have been affected by this article, you can contact the following organisations for support:,,,,

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