THE statistical rise in children and young people’s mental health problems is staggering.
According to a Royal College of Psychiatrists study, since the pandemic began 18 months ago, the number of children and young people developing mental health issues has risen by 134 per cent compared to last year.
Nearly half a million have sought help, with thousands requiring crisis emergency care.
The reasons for this significant increase range from the disruption to school and family life to loss and bereavement due to Covid-19, and uncertainty and anxiety about the future due to factors such as economic hardship, climate change and the pressures of social media.
While we cannot be under any illusions about the pressing nature of this challenge and the awful impact it has on children, young people and carers, we also know that if help is given at the right time, the ability of children to recover well is considerable and can have long-lasting positive effects throughout their lives.
There is an urgent need for the government and policy makers in the NHS to recognise that we cannot have a healthy nation and healthy adults, without having healthy children.
Paying attention to their mental health has an impact beyond mental wellbeing alone – it leads to good physical health, as well as productive, fulfilling adult lives.
As the great poet Rumi said, “Maybe you are searching among the branches for what only appears in the roots” – the importance of strong foundations during childhood with good mental health and wellbeing cannot be under-estimated.
The ethical, economic and evidence-base case for investing in our children’s mental health has never been greater.
We need to look at this as a part of children’s human rights too. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) gives a good basis for understanding the rights of children across a comprehensive range of measures.
For example, Article 6 talks of the right to life (life, survival and development) and Article 25 (review of treatment in care) enshrines the right to good quality care when children have to be cared away from home for any reason.
The UK is a signatory to the UN convention and we need to hold it to account to ensure that the UNCRC is being implemented in letter and spirit.
We also need to remember that children and young people, when involved and asked to contribute to decision-making about their future, can come up with effective suggestions and solutions to address issues.
We have seen many positive role models and advocates among young people – ranging from Greta Thunberg, Malala Yousafzai, and Marcus Rashford – to all the quiet champions working at various local levels.
We need to learn from the devastation caused by Covid-19 to say, “never again”. Never again can we afford to neglect the rights and needs of children and young people, especially in relation to their mental health and wellbeing.
Global crises can bring about global solutions too and the world needs to act together to safeguard the future of its people by looking after our children.
Dr Ananta Dave is the president of the British Indian Psychiatric Association and works as a consultant child and adolescent psychiatrist.