We are now all too familiar with the words mental health. And for good reason. A much talked about topic, but mostly in recent times, to the point that many would be surprised to know that the Mental Health Foundation celebrated its 70th anniversary in 2019. What is positive is that our younger generation will have grown up discussing issues around mental wellbeing and coping mechanisms, that can only be a good thing for them to take into their adult lives.
The impact of the pandemic on mental health
Senploy touched on mental health and wellbeing in our October blog and now seek to expand on this in relation to children with Special educational needs, and some thoughts on how they can be assisted.
We have already experienced in some degree, concern, regarding ourselves and friends and family, first and foremost not contracting the coronavirus. In addition to this, the impact of the covid-19 outbreak on our mental health has seen itself manifest mentally and physically in:
- Job loss
- Financial worries
- Lack of schooling
- Lack of communication and human interaction
- Lack of mental stimulation (notably amongst scholars)
- Lack of exercise and vitamin D especially for those living in flats or who need care
It could be argued that the Prime Minister's announcement of a further lockdown post-Christmas, whilst expected, was devastating to many. The natural anti-climax experienced after the festive period would have been exasperated by more weeks of uncertainty during a period where many already suffer from SAD, Seasonal Affective Disorder.
Young people have been particularly affected by the impact of the Covid-19 outbreak. The UK Parliament published an article on September 18, 2020, touching on the negative effect of school closures, isolation and loneliness and breaks in routine and highlights the effects of disruption in care for those who have existing mental health needs. Consistency and continuity are key within any child's routine, but even more so for those who have special educational needs.
The impact of Covid19 on young people with mental health needs
The charity Youngminds conducted two studies examining the impact of Covid -19 on young people with existing mental health requirements.
The first YoungMinds report conducted during the first weekend of lockdown found that among young people with pre-existing mental health needs:
- 32% stated that the pandemic had made their mental health a lot worse;
- 51% stated that the pandemic had made their mental health a bit worse;
- 9% stated that the pandemic had made no difference to their mental health;
- 7% stated that the pandemic had improved their mental health.
The second YoungMinds report, conducted in June and July, reported significant deterioration in the mental health of young people with existing needs, particularly linked to increased loneliness and anxiety. As predicted by the earlier report, this often led to increased condition-specific coping strategies, including:
- Greater levels of food restriction in respondents with eating disorders;
- Worsening of rituals/‘checking' in respondents with OCD; and
- An increase in self-harm amongst those already self-harming prior to the pandemic.
Youngminds also pointed out that 31% of respondents were struggling to access the help they needed.
In November 2020, Ofsted were reported as saying that disabled children were ‘seriously affected in both care and education' during the pandemic. Ofsted found that parents and their children/young people with SEND were left struggling from the sudden withdrawal of essential services and isolation of lockdown. The loss of informal friends and family support left parents feeling vulnerable and the impact has intensified as time has gone on (Tirraoro, T, 2020, Special Needs Jungle)
How to improve your mental health and wellbeing during the pandemic
We at Senploy, felt it prudent to outline some positive strategies to assist with an improvement in mental health, amongst those with special needs. We do appreciate that special needs covers a wide range of issues, so there is unlikely to be a one size fits all approach.
- Talk to children about the Coronavirus pandemic – Children of all abilities are preceptive. Tell them it is okay to feel concerned, as everything isn't fine, however world-leading experts are working hard to reduce the impact and the really positive news is that the UK have started the roll-out of a vaccine which will eventually limit the spread of the virus.
- Parents should go back to basics, reverting back to original basic strategies that worked, mostly around consistent schedules and routines for meals, medicine, exercise, and bedtime.
- Introduce any changes or transitions at your child's pace if at all possible as this will make them feel back in control
Staying connected during lockdown will improve your health
- Keep up with phone calls and/ or video calls with friends and family, especially with older family members, if applicable. Make it a routine and where possible, responsibility for the child to fulfil daily or weekly.
- Collaborate with other parents in arranging video calls with a small group of friends perhaps with some sort of online activity. Remember we are all in the same boat.
- Continue with safety messages:
- Waving or smiling at others instead of giving hugs to maintain social distancing and mask-wearing
- Handwashing techniques, how to sneeze into one's arm or covering of mouth and nose.
- Teaching ways of disinfecting commonly touched places in the home
As we mentioned at the start of this blog, everyone has been affected by lockdown, so it will be key for you the parent, carer or teacher to managing your wellbeing and stress levels. Sufficient sleep, a balanced healthy diet and activity goes a long way to establishing a strong physical and mental health.
Please find below just a few organisations who are there for us all. Do not be alone. Do not be afraid to reach out, if the below cannot help you, they will be able to give advice as to who can.
Written by Lisa McCall