Increasing numbers of children are being admitted to hospital with mental health problems linked to the Covid-19 pandemic.
ew figures from Dublin’s three main paediatric facilities reveal a 66pc rise in children with eating disorders being hospitalised in the first three months of this year compared with the same period last year.
Children are also attending emergency departments in increasing numbers, most commonly with suicidal ideation, thoughts of self-harm or anxiety.
Children’s Health Ireland (CHI), which includes Temple Street, Crumlin and the National Paediatric Hospital in Tallaght, said 810 children attended emergency departments with mental health issues in the last three months of 2020.
This was a 58pc increase on the number of children presenting to emergency departments during the same period in 2019, before the pandemic struck.
“The young presenting to our EDs are seeking help for a mental health crisis, and the most common issues are suicidal ideation, self-harm thoughts, self-harming as well as anxiety and behavioural issues,” the hospital group said in a statement.
CHI said it has engaged with international paediatric facilities during the pandemic and identified a consistent theme of increasing numbers of children presenting to hospitals with mental health and behavioural issues. It is working with the HSE on how to meet the increased demand for children’s services.
Dr Kieran Moore, a consultant child and adolescent psychiatrist, described the escalation in children with mental health issues in recent months as very concerning.
As many as 17 children a day are attending Crumlin children’s facility alone, and most of those will require hospital admission, Dr Moore said.
He warned that the pandemic is adding hugely to the stress on patients and their families.
“The lack of services for patients at the best of times is made worse now by the total lack of many primary care services such as autism teams and psychology teams seeing patients at all,” Dr Moore said. “Many out-patient child and adolescent psychiatry services such as Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services are seeing patients by Zoom, which is in many cases inappropriate and does not allow for proper assessment.”
Dr Moore said children are presenting to paediatric hospitals, where they are examined face-to-face and offered an in-patient bed as required.
The Department of Health has also noted the impact of Covid-19 on
children’s mental health. In a briefing document as the third wave took hold in January, it noted a “significant increase in relation to cases of mental health where children are presenting with anxiety issues due to Covid-19”.