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‘They have been incredible’ - Impact of Covid on young people revealed

PUBLISHED: 06:30 12 November 2020 | UPDATED: 13:48 12 November 2020

Sapientia Education Trust has told pupils to wear face masks in class at six of its secondary schools in Norfolk and Suffolk. Picture: PA Images

Sapientia Education Trust has told pupils to wear face masks in class at six of its secondary schools in Norfolk and Suffolk. Picture: PA Images

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“Don’t kill granny by catching coronavirus” became the national rallying cry when cases began to rise in late summer - making it the job of young people to protect older and more vulnerable members of the community.

Finlay and Imogen Cornish, 7 and 5, said they were nervous about returning to their primary school in Reepham, but had been kept busy over lockdown by their mum Francesca. Photo: Francesca CornishFinlay and Imogen Cornish, 7 and 5, said they were nervous about returning to their primary school in Reepham, but had been kept busy over lockdown by their mum Francesca. Photo: Francesca Cornish

But as the pandemic drags on, and children and teenagers adapt to the demands placed on their shoulders, their own wellbeing has taken a heavy blow.

A national survey carried out by YoungMinds revealed that 87pc of young people with existing mental health problems struggled over the first lockdown period - and may do so again over the second.

According to Dr Gemma Bowers, principal clinical psychologist with NSFT, the unprecedented social isolation of lockdown could have an effect on children’s long-term development, education and sense of identity - though it is too early to say conclusively what the impct would be.

She said: “Teenagers rely heavily on friendships and less on their parents - and without that connection they can become lonely.

Finlay and Imogen Cornish, 7 and 5, said they were nervous about returning to their primary school in Reepham, but had been kept busy over lockdown by their mum Francesca. Photo: Francesca CornishFinlay and Imogen Cornish, 7 and 5, said they were nervous about returning to their primary school in Reepham, but had been kept busy over lockdown by their mum Francesca. Photo: Francesca Cornish

“They are lucky that they have digital channels to stay connected with peers, but that can also be problematic in itself.

“Increased screen time - and especially unsupervised screen time - can make them anxious and more likely to self-harm. Social media is fine, but only in moderation.

“Physical contact with friends is also important for social and psychological development in children.”

For Dr Bowers, a big issue is the undue pressure young people have faced.

Health seceretary Matt Hancock during a Downing Street briefing Picture: PA WireHealth seceretary Matt Hancock during a Downing Street briefing Picture: PA Wire

She said: “University students have had it particularly hard.

“Right now, senior psychologists and psychiatrists are fighting the case for young people to have some normality.

“They’re telling the government how important it is for them to do sport, meet up with friends and play with each other.

“We have to strike a balance between restrictions and the need to minimise disruption to young people’s lives. This is also for the parents’ sake.

Finlay Cornish. Photo: Francesca CornishFinlay Cornish. Photo: Francesca Cornish

“Parents are under huge amounts of stress due to the pandemic, It’s important that they prioritise their own health now too.”

She added: “I’m glad schools are open. It sounds cliched, but children are the future. They need to learn, and they shouldn’t have to worry too much about coronavirus beyond the need to be safe.

“There’s a clear rift forming between the old and young over this, and a lot of blame put at the foot of young people.

“The virus hits every age group in different ways, and that has the potential to divide people.

Department for Education guidance advises pupils should wear face coverings in communal spaces but not classrooms. Picture: PA ImagesDepartment for Education guidance advises pupils should wear face coverings in communal spaces but not classrooms. Picture: PA Images

“But I want to say that young people have been absolutely incredible throughout all of this - and they deserve our praise.”

For the NSPCC, a stark indicator of the mental strain children are facing is the amount of correspondence to Childline since March, with over 43,000 counselling sessions delivered.

A spokesperson said: “A lot of children have been contacting us about their schoolwork, and their parents’ jobs. Throughout this ordeal they have been the hidden victims of the pandemic.”

A youth mental health caseworker at Norfolk and Waveney Mind, who was not able to reveal their name, also highlighted the stresses children are facing in school as well as out.

Izzy Taylor. Picture: MAPIzzy Taylor. Picture: MAP

They said: “Everything has had a huge impact on how school-age children ‘cope’ with their mental health problems.

“Not enough is being done to provide for children’s mental health in the second lockdown. We have seen an increase in referrals from school-age children, 14-16, all of whom are asking for face-to-face support in school.

“Year 11s are unsure if they’re even going to be able to take their GCSEs. This makes mocks more important, but many were unable to take them this week due to school closures.

“All of this makes it so important for children to have a ‘normal’ Christmas. They need positives to focus on. Taking that hope away not only affects their mental health, but also ours as ‘case workers’. It makes it so much harder to give reassurance.”

What do young people themselves say?

At one end of the spectrum, a recent call by a girl to Childline and shared by the charity shows just how tough lockdown has been for some youngsters.

She said: “I am scared of Covid-19 and feel like my family don’t care about me. I don’t get any attention and am always fighting with my mum.

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“I live with just my mum and don’t see dad much. We live in a tiny flat and sometimes we get so angry with each other we end up fighting. After we have had a fight I hurt myself because I feel like I am not good enough.”

For others the situation has been less challenging, but still a source of difficulty.

Finlay Cornish, 7, who lives in Reedham, said: “I was nervous about going back to school because I didn’t want to catch Covid and spread it to my mum who looks after us.

“Our teachers were quite forceful at the beginning in making us keep the 2m rule. That was hard because we missed playing with each other. It seemed strange to be kept apart from my friends.

“Now we have a 2m stick in class and we know exactly how much distance we have to keep. It’s making everyone feel more confident and less scared about lockdown.

“The sad thing about lockdown is not being able to see our grandparents. We saw my nan the other month when our mum hosted a pizza party with her new business at Burgh House care home, but we’re worried we won’t be able to see them for Christmas.

“My friend couldn’t come to our Halloween party either as he was told to isolate after coming into contact with someone who had Covid. It really upset me at the time.”

Finlay’s mum, Francesca, said she was “prepaparing the kids for the worst” when it comes to Christmas this year.

Her daughter, five-year-old Imogen, said her mum had kept them busy in lockdown by taking her and Finlay to the village allotment, and running their own sports day. She’d also learned how to swim - almost.

But it was weird not being able to interact with her older brother in school, she said.

“I used to see him a lot but now we have to stay in separate bubbles.

“I can still play with my friends at play time which is very fun. The other day we built a fairy house.”

Izzy Taylor, 14, is a member of the Norwich Youth Advisory Board.

She said the second lockdown was a “weird half-way house”, and that things were almost more difficult this time round.

“Schools were closed the first time, so we got used to working from home and making that our purpose,” she said. “But now that schools are open, and we’re getting our work done in school itself, coming home makes you feel a bit listless.

“We can’t do anything extra-curricular, or meet up in groups of friends. It makes you feel like your life revolves around work alone.

“The rules are just getting stricter and stricter too - we were told just the other day masks would be compulsory at all times, even at lunch and in class. I know some people are getting fed up with it all.

“I live with my dad, and my sister came back from uni just before lockdown, so she’s with us now. I’m worried that if household mixing is banned at Christmas I won’t be able to spend any time with my mum.”

What can young people do to help support positive mental wellbeing?

• Eat well and make sure you’re getting enough sleep

• Formulate a routine

• Stay regularly and safely connected with family and friends

• Keep doing the things you enjoy, even if they’re on a smaller scale

• Do meaningful things that give you a sense of achievement

• Stay informed, not overwhlemed, about coronvirus

• Be kind to yourself - talk about it with the people you trust

If you are a young person and need help, visit www.childline.org.uk or www.justonenorfolk.nhs.uk


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