Some of the UK’s top experts in child health have said that anxiety, self-harm and suicidal thoughts are at “frightening levels” among children because of the continued Covid-19 lockdown.
Calling for teachers and school staff to be prioritised for vaccinations, the leading paediatricians said that the strict lockdown and prolonged school closures may cause children to become “long Covid casualties of the pandemic”. They added that prolonged school closures were having a “calamitous impact on a generation of young people”.
Amongst those signing the open letter published in The Times were Prof Claire Hogg, a consultant in paediatric respiratory medicine, and other paediatric experts including Prof Sejal Saglani, Andrew Bush, a professor of paediatric respirology, and Dr Ian Balfour Lynn, a specialist in child respiratory medicine.
They also warned that parents were at breaking point. “As in the first lockdown, we are witnessing an acute and rapid increase in mental health and safeguarding cases affecting children and parents alike. Anxiety, depression and self-harm are all at frightening levels. Parents are showing signs of psychological stress and even breakdown as a result of the pressures of trying to home-school their children and sustain their jobs and businesses,” they warned.
“The education secretary appears intent on prolonging school closures despite growing evidence of the calamitous impact on a generation of young people. As paediatricians we rely on schools as our eyes and ears, and are witnessing first hand the damage that the lockdown is inflicting on the mental health of our nation’s children,” they wrote.
“Socioeconomic divides exaggerate educational inequalities where families may struggle to provide adequate online access or private space to engage in a meaningful way. The impact of previous school closures led the prime minister to state: “Keeping schools closed for a moment longer than necessary was socially intolerable, economically unsustainable and morally indefensible,'” the leading experts pointed out.
In Ireland, issues of safety in the classrooms have caused difficulties in negotiations between teachers’ unions and the Department of Education regarding the re-opening of the schools.