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ICS commissioning lead backs national advice for children going back to school

A leading local doctor is backing national advice for parents to be alert to children’s mental health as many return to school this week.

Dr Andy Brooks, a GP and the Clinical Chief Officer for NHS commissioners in East Berkshire, Surrey Heath and North East Hampshire and Farnham, supports the need to help children who may be struggling with the confusion of life under Covid-19.

Dr Brooks said: “Over the past few weeks, the coronavirus pandemic has caused major disruptions to family life, through the introduction of social distancing, school closures and lockdown. This has been an extremely unsettling time for children and young people with lockdown also creating increased pressure on families.

“Returning to school may cause anxiety for some pupils heading back to the classroom after months away – and those who would like to return but remain stuck at home feeling left out or isolated.”

Professor Prathiba Chitsabesan, NHS England’s Associate National Clinical Director for Children and Young People’s Mental Health, recently outlined simple steps for parents to take to help their sons and daughters cope with the loneliness and uncertainty of lockdown or fears about returning to school.

Professor Chitsabesan also stressed that NHS mental health services remained available for children and young people and that they were working in partnership with schools and other services to support children and their families.

He said: “Children and young people may be experiencing a variety of feelings in response to the coronavirus pandemic, including anxiety, distress and low mood, and it is important to understand that these are normal responses to an abnormal situation.

“The NHS offers a large amount of mental health support for children and young people, and if a child needs urgent mental health support or advice, check nhs.uk for services in your area, including 24/7 crisis support.”

Dr Andy Brooks added: “As parents and carers, it’s crucial to engage how our children are feeling and to seek support if needed. Continuing to look after our mental health is just as important as taking care of our physical health.

He added: “Earlier this month, we launched three #coping guides across Frimley Health and Care to support the wellbeing of children and young people during lockdown and beyond and I would encourage you to refer to these.”

According to the World Mental Health Organisation, one in four people will suffer with some form of mental health issue in their life.

The #coping guides - #Coping – Family life during lockdown; #Coping – Five Ways to Wellbeing and #Coping – Young Person’s guide - contain some of the best reliable and free sources of information and advice. Click here to view the guides.

East Berkshire Clinical Commissioning Group’s (CCG) Head of Children, Young People and Families, Janette Fullwood, said: “We continue to work system wide across Frimley with colleagues from local authorities and the voluntary sector to ensure a coordinated approach to mental health and support.

“We have a particular focus on crisis mental health support for children and young people; ensuring that children and young people continue to have access to mental health services: close working with local partners to ensure that referral routes are easily understood; and preparing for a possible longer term increase in demand on children and young people’s mental health services as a consequence of the pandemic.”

NHS England has issued step-by-step advice for parents on what to look out for and steps that they can take to look after their child’s mental health, based on advice from clinicians and first-hand experience from patients and parents.

Signs that parents should look out for include:

  • You might find they are more upset or find it hard to manage their emotions
  • They may appear anxious or distressed
  • Increasing trouble with sleeping and eating
  • Appearing low in mood, withdrawn or tearful
  • Reporting worried or negative thoughts about themselves or their future
  • For younger children, there may be more bed wetting

If you are worried about your child’s mental health, then you can help by:

  • Making time to talk to your child
  • Allow your child to talk about their feelings
  • Try to understand their problems and provide reassurance that you have heard them and are there to help
  • Help your child do positive activities
  • Try to keep a routine over the next few weeks
  • Look after your own mental health

Parents should contact NHS 111 online or a GP immediately if they notice any physical injuries on a child, such as deep cuts or burns.

If you, or your child, are experiencing any mental health issues your GP, key worker (if you have one) or NHS 111 are still here to help. This is a difficult time for many of us and it’s important that you get the support you need. For more information, visit www.nhs.uk/mentalhealth

This is a difficult time for many of us and it’s important that you get the support you need. For more information, visit www.nhs.uk/mentalhealth or the mental wellbeing section of this website.

Advice is also available from Rise Above, a website created with young people, and from MindEd - a free educational resource for parents and professionals working with children.

Frimley Health and Care