The figures are worrying: more and more children and young people need psychiatric treatment during the corona pandemic. But what can caregivers do if their children get sick?
The figures published by the health insurance company DAK on Wednesday show once again how much children and young people are suffering from the corona pandemic. More and more young people are being treated for eating disorders and anxiety disorders. “Compared to the period before Corona, eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia have increased by around 60 percent in girls aged 10 to 14,” says the health insurance company. And obesity – that is, morbid obesity – increased by more than 20 percent among girls. The number of prescriptions for antidepressants increased threefold in the age group.
In boys and male youth, on the other hand, there was no increase in treatments for eating disorders. There were even fewer boys being treated for depression and anxiety disorders than before Corona. The number of treatments fell by 31 and 27 percent, respectively.
Expert concerned about trend and long waiting times
For Sabine Maur, permanent resident psychological psychotherapist with additional qualifications in child and youth psychotherapy and chairman of the Norwegian Chamber of Psychotherapists, this development is not new, but it is worrying. Above all, she is critical of the increased number of prescribed antidepressants. “The increase is worrying.” The first choice in the treatment of depression and anxiety disorders in childhood and adolescence is psychotherapy. But it’s not that easy. “The psychotherapeutic care of children and young people is also associated with long waiting times in Rhineland-Palatinate.” There is an urgent need for improvement here.
Tips for victims and relatives
But how do caregivers recognize when children and young people are mentally ill, and what does it take? An overview of the first questions:
offer of help
Help for relatives
How do you know if the child has a mental illness?
According to Maur, possible general signs can be longer-term behavioral changes: “For example, if the child repeatedly shows fear or seems sad, withdrawn, no longer interested in things that he or she used to enjoy doing.” Or always seems tense, quickly becomes aggressive, is only slightly approachable in conversation or neglects hobbies and school. According to the expert, it is important “to already have a relationship of trust with the child” and to keep asking with honest interest how the child is doing, how he is feeling and what he finds difficult or stressful right now.
Where is the help?
If the child needs medical help, the pediatrician can be the first point of contact, as appears from the Norwegian Psychotherapists’ website. Those affected can also seek help directly from a specialist. For this, there is, among other things, the psychotherapist search or the telephone number for the Association of Statutory Health Insurance Physicians 116117, which is staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week. In emergencies – that is, acute psychological emergency situations – direct contact can also be made via this number. In the event of a life-threatening situation, the same applies to mental illnesses: Call the emergency services at 112 inform. From the age of 15, young people can go to a therapist without their parents knowing.
What can relatives do for themselves?
When a child or young person becomes ill, it not only affects him or her, but usually also the carers. “If parents have such strong feelings of guilt and helplessness that they themselves feel overwhelmed, external support can be helpful,” says child and adolescent psychotherapist Maur. It could be a very practical relief in everyday things, but also the exchange with other affected parents, for example in self-help groups. It is also possible to get your own therapy or counseling to deal with the situation. Maur points out that when treating children, “the caregivers, especially the parents, are closely and regularly involved”. Additional therapy sessions are scheduled for this purpose.
How can you take preventive measures?
Especially during puberty, children separate from their parents, withdraw and look for new people to relate to. It is therefore not a matter of course that they confide in their parents or other relatives when they have symptoms. The parental guidance from the Chamber of Psychotherapists recommends first talking to the children in a quiet situation. However, parents can also go to child and youth therapists’ consultation hours if they need advice. For Maur, a good foundation is already laid “when parents have a good bond with their child and give their child good, reliable emotional support.”
According to the health insurance company DAK, sports, social ties and activities are also ways to prevent mental illness. To that end, employees in schools and daycare centers receive further training in the subjects of exercise, nutrition and mental health, so that they can do preventive work there.