Covid lockdown: Children as young as eight self-harming, doctor says

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The age of children presenting at A&E in Bradford in mental health crisis has got younger

Children as young as eight are self-harming amid an unprecedented mental health crisis fuelled by the stress of lockdown, a consultant has said.

Staff at Bradford Royal Infirmary are regularly seeing youngsters who have attempted suicide or taken overdoses.

The number of children attending A&E in mental ill health has risen from once or twice a week to the same daily.

Consultant Dave Greenhorn said: "We've seen all sorts of tragic things that we haven't seen before," he said.

Mr Greenhorn said although the majority of children were in their teens, those as young as eight were being seen, which was "extremely unusual" before the pandemic.

Image caption,
Consultant Dave Greenhorn said he did not know how to deal with the pressures lockdown had brought

Some of the youngsters had accessed alcohol or drugs, with others trying to escape lockdown at home by jumping out of windows.

"A year of lockdown is a massive amount of time when you're so young and you can't see your friends and combine that with other things such as parents on furlough, working from home or losing their jobs," Mr Greenhorn said.

"The children don't have the emotive language to discuss why they feel the way they do, they just know that they feel awful."

As well as the extreme end of mental health issues, Mr Greenhorn said a large proportion of children were presenting with "less dramatic symptoms" such as palpitations and headaches, which were symptoms of psychological stress.

'Make sure you voice how you feel'

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Gage Oxley has encouraged young people to talk about how they are feeling

Gage Oxley was 16 when he sought help through his GP for mental health issues although he recalls those feeling starting when he was aged eight.

"It got to the point where I was having suicidal thoughts and it was really bad. I didn't have the language to say how I was I feeling so I wrote it on a piece of paper and passed it to the doctor."

Now aged 23, he is in a much better place and works as an ambassador for Mindmate.

He said with the difficulties of the last year he had come to realise that feeling low and anxious was a normal reaction to living in a not-so-normal world.

"The one thing I would say to people who are struggling, is look around you and realise there are people there to help - family, friends, teachers, GPs. Support services are still available regardless of the pandemic so make sure you voice how you feel."

The NSPCC's Childline service has reported a 16% rise in the number of children aged under 11 having counselling sessions for their mental health since lockdown was first introduced.

The charity said children had spoken about issues including loneliness, low mood, low self-esteem, depression and anxiety.

One 13-year-old girl told the helpline: "I've found being inside for so long really difficult. I keep checking my phone and getting upset when nobody is talking to me."

Another teenager said: "I can't cope with this virus. I haven't got it, but I'm terrified that my family is going to get it.

"I don't care about me but I feel like I can't breathe when I think about my family getting it."

Information and support: If you or someone you know is affected by issues discussed in this article, the BBC's Action Line has organisations which may be able to help for emotional distress/suicide and mental health issues.

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