Northern Ireland news

Children's anxiety around lockdown and parents close to 'breakdown' being seen by GPs in second lockdown

West Belfast GP Dr Michael McKenna said anxiety and common mental health conditions among children normally dealt with by schools are coming his way during pandemic
Seanín Graham

ANXIETY suffered by children struggling with lockdown as well as parents "pushing themselves to the complete limit" has become more prevalent during the third Covid wave, a GP has warned.

Dr Michael McKenna said that while child referrals to specialist mental health services were already increasing prior to the pandemic, there had been a noticeable shift in more teenagers presenting with problems normally "soaked up by schools" through face-to-face counselling.

Younger girls made up the vast majority of his referrals to Child and Adolescent Mental Health services (CAMHs) for further assessments, with social media playing a "major role".

In yesterday's Irish News, a leading psychiatrist revealed a surge in the number of seriously ill teenagers with eating disorders requiring hospital admission over the past year, a trend she linked to the social isolation of lockdown.

It also emerged that more than 1,300 children were placed on CAMHs waiting lists at the end of last December, with some facing delays of up to ten months before they are seen.

Dr McKenna, who runs a busy practice off the Falls road in west Belfast, said while CAMHs is accepting more referrals than this time last year, delays remained an issue at a time when early intervention is needed for the acutely unwell.

He said he had lost one teenage patient to suicide this year.

"There's kids coming in with anxiety, the whole Covid pandemic has really upset their world. The loss of social contact is huge while drug and alcohol play a significant role in making that even more complicated," Dr McKenna said.

"Previously, common mental health issues such an anxiety would have been soaked up by the schools. So those children would have presented and the schools dealt with them in-house. Those services aren’t as accessible at the moment, there's no face-to-face support.

"It's challenging when you tell people they must wait, there should be a default. You try to ring them back and follow up - which is difficult when you’re a busy GP."

With an Executive announcement on the re-opening of schools set for later this week, Dr McKenna expressed concern about the toll of lockdown and home schooling on parents, particularly those in lower paid jobs who cannot work from home.

"Contacts from worried parents have definitely increased. I’ve had the conversation with people who are pushing themselves to the complete limit to the point of breakdown by trying to do it all," he added.

"There are some parents who are just not cut out for doing this."

Read more: Spike in number of teens' eating disorders linked to pandemic

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