Urgent investment in child mental health services is needed due to Covid, expert says

Prof Fiona McNicholas says already overstretched services are facing a new crisis

Urgent investment in child mental health services is needed amid the Covid-19 pandemic, according to a leading psychiatrist. Photograph: Getty Images

Urgent investment in child mental health services is needed amid the Covid-19 pandemic, according to a leading psychiatrist. Photograph: Getty Images

 

Urgent investment in child mental health services is needed amid the Covid-19 pandemic, according to a leading psychiatrist.

Large-scale studies in the State and the UK have shown a worrying increase in young people suffering from declining mental health wellbeing as the pandemic has progressed, Prof Fiona McNicholas, of UCD’s school of medicine, has said.

Worry, anxiety, depression and concerns over missing their friends and school emerged in a study of 2,000 young people, she said.

In one Dublin paediatric hospital, referrals to child and adolescent mental health services (Camhs) increased by 180 per cent in November 2020 compared with previous years.

“Initial reports from clinicians also show an alarming increase in youth presenting with suicidal ideation [and] eating disorders and a 51 per cent increase in admissions to child psychiatry units,” she noted.

Increased demand on Camhs due to Covid-19 and related restrictions will create a new crisis for already overstretched services, she forecast.

Meanwhile, 32 per cent of psychiatry positions are not permanently filled, with the sector having the highest consultant vacancy rate of all medical specialties.

Writing in the Irish Medical Journal, Prof McNicholas called on the Government to implement the changes sought by Mental Health Reform, a national coalition of mental health organisations, that it included in its pre-budget submission. These include making mental health central to all Covid-19 planning and an investment of €85 million in new and existing mental health services.

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