Surge in children suffering from mental health issues in mid and south Essex post COVID

The number of children being seen with mental health issues in mid and south Essex has increased by around 70 per cent in just four months.

Similarly, a general surge in demand for mental health services in mid and south Essex is likely to top more than 132,770 additional cases – largely driven by people needing support due to the wider impact of COVID-19.

The figures presented to Essex County Council’s health overview policy and scrutiny committee on Wednesday, December 2 comes amidst a backdrop of increasing pressures and anxieties caused by the coronavirus crisis.

North East London NHS Foundation Trust (NELFT ) forecast that the mental health surge in the next six months could be as high as 10 per cent.

Along with other mental health organisations, NELFT is beginning to identify that the mental health surge includes a cohort of patients that are new to the service, or have not been engaged with secondary health services for a number of years and are presenting with complex mental health needs.

Among the biggest increase in mental health disorders among children are emotional disorders which have increased from 737 to 1,164 between May and August. Eating disorders have increased from 137 to 350 in the same period.

Gill Burns, interim deputy director for emotional wellbeing and mental health services (EWMHS) at North East London NHS Foundation Trust, said: “There’s been quite a lot of heightened anxiety once children went back to school after the summer.

“So we’ve got a bit of a perfect storm because we’ve got lots of adults, parents and families extremely anxious.

“I’ve certainly spoken to colleagues and friends of mine who definitely didn’t want their children to go back to school for fear of Covid, so you’ve got a bit of anxiety there naturally in our population anyway.

“Then you’ve got children going back to school who haven’t been there for a long time.

“We’ve got all the anxieties around the educational gaps over the year where people were not at school for periods of time.

“Mental health services for children are becoming a bit of a repository for anxiety.  Anyone that has any element of anxiety, not only do they get referred to mental health services correctly if that’s the right place at that time, but also that with the kind of escalation of a lot of that post Covid there’s a real push to try and admit people into tier four beds.

“Sometimes that is absolutely not the right place.”

Ms Burns said that Essex has been successful in getting seven NEFLT teams funded by NHS England, comprising 56 staff in schools physically situated voluntarily in schools.

She added: “It would be lovely to have that in every school in Essex and I do think over the next few years we’ll really see the impact of that because that’s about early intervention, brief intervention and you’re physically on site working with the teachers.”

Mental health services are anticipating 132,000 new cases – including 33,000 extra suffering from moderate to severe anxiety, 67,000 suffering from moderate to severe depression and almost 4,000 with major depression.

The increase in demand from people with existing mental health conditions could be up to 67 per cent.

Sue Waterhouse, director of mental health at NELFT, said: “We’re not too sure what time frame that is.

“As we go through it’s a constant focus for us to try and establish what time frame these people are likely to present over whether it’s a course of a year.

“What we do anticipate is the vast majority of these are likely to present in primary care and what we’re anticipating is that out of these, not all will present to services.”

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Piers Meyler

Local Democracy Reporter