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Suicide Ideation, Eating Difficulties and Self-harm – The mental health issues on the minds of children & young people in the Capital

A rise in suicidal ideation, an increase in those presenting with eating difficulties and higher rates of self-harm, a report from Kooth, the UK’s leading digital mental health platform, into the mental health of children and young people across London has revealed.

Kooth in the Capital: Understanding and Supporting the Mental Health of London’s Children and Young People explores anonymous data from over 24,000 active users of the Kooth platform – available to all those aged 10 to 25 years old across all 32 London Boroughs – from 1st July 2020 to 30th June 2021. The new study highlights the toll the pandemic has taken on children and young people’s mental health, as well as, giving a clearer understanding of what’s on their minds. This includes:

  • 18-25s are experiencing higher rates of self-harm than before the pandemic: Over the past 12 months there was a 38% increase in young adults in London registered to the Kooth platform presenting with self-harm behaviours. However, in December 2020 and January 2021, the data shows a staggering rise of 374% and 114% compared to the same months the previous year. Kooth also saw a 28% rise in young Black people in London presenting with self-harm this year versus last year.
  • Increasing demand for eating difficulties intervention: The number of children and young people presenting with eating problems increased by 32% over the previous 12 months, with a worrying 56% increase observed among Black, Asian, and non-white ethnic groups. As London moved into the nation’s highest tier of Covid-19 restrictions in January 2021, over one in 10 under-18s were presenting with eating difficulties.
  • Suicidal ideation is on the rise: Kooth recorded its highest number of young people seeking help for suicidal ideation in April 2021 – an increase of a third (31.7%) compared to the previous year. The increase is also affecting over-18s. In the period from October 2020 to June 2021, more than one in five service users had suicidal thoughts. The report finds this health concern to be more prevalent in the capital, while there has been a 12% increase in those presenting in London, the rest of the country saw a -3% decrease year on year.
  • Disruption to school and college experiences: there was a 40% increase in over 18s, and almost a 25% rise in under 18s in London presenting with school/ college issues. One in 10 (11%) Black and South Asian children and young people presented with school/ college issues, an increase on last year of 37% and 15% respectively. 

What’s more in London alone new registrations by children and young people to the Kooth platform rose by a third (33%), with almost half (49%) coming from children and young people of Black, Asian and Non-White backgrounds.  And there was a 13% increase in users logging into the Kooth platform than the previous year. 

Tim Barker, CEO, Kooth said:

“Children and young people have been experiencing disruptions to their education, home life, and work lives due to Covid-19, and we are just now beginning to understand the extent of its impact on their mental health and the full scope of the crisis. It is imperative that those supporting children and young people with their mental health, or those with mental health concerns themselves understand how and where to go for help. In addition, the report indicates that the virus and its social impacts are disproportionately impacting Black, Asian and Non-White communities. Prioritising engagement between youth mental health services and local referring organisations to ensure early identification and appropriate intervention for children and young people from all backgrounds is an additional necessary step moving forward.”

The report delves deeper into the essential skills those supporting children and young people with mental health concerns can have – spotting the signs, having the conversation, then signposting or seeking the help children and young people need. As well as giving an overview of the ecosystem of support that is waiting to make the journey just a little bit better. 

Dr Lynne Green, Chief Clinical Officer, Kooth added:

“Being aware of common signs is important and helpful, however this can also feel overwhelming for parents and carers who are not trained in mental health and who may be anxious about over ‘pathologising’ their child’s behaviour. This is particularly true with adolescents as many of the symptoms of worsening mental health can be attributed to hormonal/brain changes and ‘normal’ development. The best piece of advice I could give to parents is to pay attention to changes in your child and talk to them about the potential reasons. This will help you both to understand whether there might be an underlying mental health difficulty which may need exploring further. Do remember to be alert to and ask about positive changes in presentation too as in some cases, this can mask an underlying problem (e.g. initial happiness that comes from successfully controlling eating can quickly lead to obsessional dieting which can turn into an eating disorder if not monitored). If in doubt, always seek help from a specialist – that’s what they are there for! My message for parents is: you are not overreacting; you are not wasting people’s time; you have not failed as a parent – sometimes we all just need a bit more help.’

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