Medics anticipate ‘20% surge’ in need for mental health care in NI - staff recruited
There could be an anticipated ‘20% surge’ in the need for mental health care in NI, as a fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, Professor Siobhan O’Neill said latest data reveals.
Ms O’Neill - Northern Ireland’s interim Mental Health champion - knows how much many children and adults have struggled and confirms that mental health provision is being put in place.
“Preparations are being made for that surge by recruiting more staff in the mental health services,” she said.
“The minister has committed to finding the money from the health budget for mental health.”
However Ms O’Neill cautioned that “the vast majority of children will be okay, but there are smaller numbers of young people showing signs of stress, self-harm and suicidal behaviour which can lead to mental illness”.
“When we are doing that reconnecting again we should be able to see the children who have been suffering and who are on a trajectory that might indicate a need for outside help”.
And she moves to assure parents and children that a phrase being used “catch-up” is “completely inappropriate as it implies there is somebody ahead”.
“There is nobody ahead,” she said.
“We have gone through this as a planet and everybody is behind.
“Children are worried about what they have missed out on.
“They are feeling themselves that missing their education is not a good thing and we need to acknowledge that anxiety they have and reassure them giving them time for fun and play.
“For most children that will be enough, but there are services for those who need more.”
She added that “if a child is not happy they will not be able to learn and play”.
“If they are not happy they cannot focus or concentrate. They need to be content.”
Now Ms O’Neill is involved in “forward planning making sure that all children in NI have access to a quality summer programme that is full of fun, art, physical activity, joy and a healthy meal”.
“There is so much data telling us that good summer experiences exacerbate good mental health,” she said.
“This is not the summer school approach that Boris Johnson was talking about, this is one that will help.”
And she said that mothers working at home with children in the P6/P7 age group trying to home school them after hours, are showing very high levels of stress.
The Ulster University academic said: “For that group of women who are home schooling and working from home at the same time the levels of distress are absolutely huge.
“All the data is showing that and this is a group that will be glad to see their children going back to school, back to a structure.”
Ms O’Neill added: “All the data is showing that the upper primary school age groups are really struggling especially where the parent is at home working with them and stressed with the situation.
“And that is bad for children too.
“This is difficult for everybody because mum and dad are not in a teacher/pupil relationship with the child, so we need to acknowledge that people are doing their best, but it is not really home schooling.
“The most important thing is that everyone is content and their well being is looked after - and we can look at the education stuff later.
“This is really difficult for the transfer test in November.”
Professor O’Neill added that although last week many people were hoping to hear dates for the reopening of society, “in my view it would have been impossible to give indicative dates”.
“Dates would give a dangerous level of certainty because there is no way they can meet all of the dates,” she added.
“It means we are basing it on trust and relying on our leaders to give us information as soon as they have can. That trust is fundamental to all of this.”
She added: “I think it is really important they (the Executive) move as quickly as they can.
“We obviously don’t want the virus back, the deaths, infections and mental health issues.
“But the situation with children and young people is really worrying me.”
She added that the school restart needs to be done “the way we would like it to foster the children’s well-being when they go back”.
She added “that means play, creativity and giving them time to reconnect with their teachers and friends”.
“For children and young people (younger pupils started back on Monday) it is about getting the schools back and the teachers reconnected and a good programme in place for the summer,” she added.
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