Teenagers reporting higher levels of social anxiety
Increasing numbers of young people are being referred for help to battle eating disorders or have struggled with social anxiety, the Minister of Health said today.
Kim Wilson highlighted that although the Covid-19 pandemic affected children and teenagers all over the world, loving and safe environments could protect them.
She was speaking as the Child and Adolescent Services team launched Children’s Mental Health Awareness month in Bermuda at the Mid-Atlantic Wellness Institute.
Ms Wilson said: “The pandemic changed the lives of many of us.
“There was an increase in concerns about mental health and mental health awareness rose, not just in adults but also in children.
“Now more than ever we are aware of and concerned about our mental wellbeing and the state of our children’s wellbeing.
“With this awareness and a better understanding of the issues, I hope that people concerned about their mental wellbeing seek help.
“So often, there is a feeling of shame and concerns about being treated differently but we must get past that and as a community we must do our best to not look at anyone negatively who has a mental illness.
“I believe in the resilience and the potential of our children and our adolescents, and the need for us as a community – as service providers and as government – to do all we can to help our young people.”
Ms Wilson said that a Unicef report last year highlighted that more than one in seven people worldwide aged from 10 to 19 were thought to live with a diagnosed mental disorder.
She added that suicide was the fifth most prevalent cause of death in the age group and that the pandemic “will not have made the situation easier”.
Ms Wilson said: “In Bermuda, our Child and Adolescent Services team has seen increased referrals for eating disorders and increases in social-anxiety related symptoms and adjustment disorders.
“Overall, admissions to Child and Adolescent Services are rising significantly: 25 clients were admitted in 2019 and today, in 2022, there have already been 39 admissions.
“But, as always, there is hope and the pandemic is only a part of our young people’s experience.
“Unicef stresses that having loving caregivers, safe school environments and positive peer relationships can protect our children.
“Equally, however, exposure to violence or abuse, discrimination, poverty and health emergencies such as Covid-19 can impact a child’s mental health throughout their lifetime.”
Ms Wilson explained that the campaign would be based on the theme of “healing and growing together” through awareness, prioritising, prevention and support.
She added: “It highlights that we can all assist our young people as families, communities and service providers.
“We must improve our awareness of the needs of children who experience a mental health or emotional challenge – all of us, parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, friends and teachers – everyone who has contact with our young people.
“This means being alert to the changes in behaviours or moods, whether disruptive or withdrawn.
“Once we have improved our awareness we can then move beyond understanding into acceptance and begin to dismantle the mental health stigma that leaves so many people suffering in silence.”
Ms Wilson said: “As adults, if we embrace the fact that mental illnesses are no different from common physical illnesses, then our children will also be far more comfortable discussing and sharing with us how they feel.”
Vakita Basden, the CAS clinical manager and a social worker, highlighted some of the ways that the coronavirus pandemic affected young people.
She said: “Definitely the adjustments of going back to school after being out of school for so long – so just imagine a child who is getting ready for preschool or P1 but has been home in isolation and struggle now to take part in structure, sitting at a desk.
“As well as those who already may have had some challenges with socially being out and about, and now ‘I’ve been inside in my comfort zone for two years and you require me to go back into a classroom setting, you require me to get back into netball’ et cetera."
Ms Basden added that younger schoolchildren would use activity books with guidance counsellors during the awareness campaign to learn more about mental health.
She said: “We’re also going to have a children’s mental health wellness fair here on our grounds at MWI. We’re hoping for the middle and high school students.”
Ms Basden added that all residents were invited to wear green on May 26 in support of Children Mental Health Awareness month.