Alarming rise in paediatric OCD

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In an interview with Private Practice Hub, Dr Alison McClymont, a leading children’s mental health psychotherapist stated that there was “no question that the pandemic has had an adverse effect on children” and that in her own practice she is seeing a rise in paediatric OCD at a rate she has “never witnessed before, presumably as a result of intense scrutiny around germ hygiene and social distancing”. 

On the 2nd of June 2021, the government released plans to invest a further £1.4 billion into their long-term recovery plan for pupils in England to catch up on missed learning. This money is in addition to the £1.7 billion already invested in summer schools and mental health support provided to children.

This plan was met with passionate condemnation from the  BACP, who  referred to the plan as “lacklustre” who said that the plans will have a “devastating impact on the mental health of children and young people” due to the lack of attention to children’s mental health within the plan. 

Dr Alison McClymont, a leading children’s psychotherapist with over a decade of  experience at the forefront of children’s mental health, has stated her support of BACP’s outrage by stating publicly that she is: 

“… in complete support of my colleagues at the BACP, we need to invest in this now so that we are not seeing paediatric mental health conditions lying dormant and becoming adult issues. We need to be very clear that children have suffered mass trauma as a result of this pandemic and we need to treat that statement with the severity it deserves.”

The pandemic has no doubt had an effect on everyone’s mental health in many different ways. The transition from lockdown to freedom, to lockdown and now once again into freedom would be hard enough for anyone to deal with, but children in particular seem to be struggling with the major changes in their lives in such a short period of time. As therapists, it is important to consider the impacts of children’s mental health on the future of therapy businesses as parents, children and young people attempt to adjust once more to today’s social climate. 

Child, Kid, Play, Study, Color, Learn, Knowledge

The Education Policy Institute (EPI) report, which BACP cites in their article discussing these investments (or lack thereof) on mental health services by the government highlights the importance of psychological support, stating that a larger investment needs to go into children’s mental health. They argue that  extra funding is needed to enable schools to hire mental health support workers. This support is estimated by EPI to have a £1.5 billion three year cost. 

A press release provided by Benenden Health, a UK based private medical care provider, provides statistical data on the number of parents that have been noticing serious psychical symptoms of poor mental health in their children since the COVID-19 outbreak including changes in their behaviour such as children:

  • Grinding their teeth (5%)
  • Losing hair (5%)
  • Self-harming (4%)
  • Moodiness (66%)
  • Misbehaviour (42%)
  • Excessive crying (38%)

Dr McClymont believes that therapists will begin to see “more post traumatic symptomatology as the pandemic abates” and suggests keeping an eye out for the following OCD behaviours such as rituals, tics and intrusive thoughts, and anticipates that therapists may begin to see “new phobias around flying/health emerging that are actually a result of pandemic related stress.”  In addition to this, McClymont warns of avoidant behaviours, signifying “a later issue around traumatic memory processing” and to be aware of any “social withdrawal or significant change in social interaction”.

Dr Siobhan Jones, a lead therapist at Mindler UK, has highlighted the importance of listening to a child’s support system when diagnosing and treating children,  “Schools and the wider parts of a young person’s system can be very helpful with identifying when a young person is struggling.”   But warns therapists to look at the greater picture when treating children:  

“Children and young people are part of a system – a family – whether this be a biological family, adoptive family or in care. If one part of the system is struggling, this likely means that the rest of the system may not be coping if the right support is not in place.” 

When treating children with OCD or generalised anxiety, both McClymont and Jones agree that Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is the way to go, but McClymont also suggests more play based therapies, or narrative exposure therapy for children dealing with loss or trauma.

In January 2021, Young Minds released a survey taken on young people to see how their mental health is faring throughout the easing of lockdown restrictions, where we see a more hopeful outlook, as 79% of respondents believed that their mental health would start to improve once most restrictions were lifted. 

Article written by Maisie Violet Wicks, BA Hons, columnist for Private Practice Hub. Please contact newsdesk@privatepracticehub.co.uk for any inquiries, comments or corrections.

References 

Alison McClymont is a leading children’s psychotherapist with over a decade’s experience at the forefront of children’s mental health.

Siobhan Jones is a registered senior clinical psychologist trained in the UK & Lead psychologist at Mindler UK.

YoungMinds. 2021. Coronavirus Report: Impact on Young People with Mental Health Needs. [online] Available at: <https://youngminds.org.uk/about-us/reports/coronavirus-impact-on-young-people-with-mental-health-needs/> [Accessed 11 June 2021].

Bacp.co.uk. 2021. Government’s limited education recovery package will have “devastating impact” on children’s mental health. [online] Available at: <https://www.bacp.co.uk/news/campaigns/school-counselling/3-june-government-s-limited-education-recovery-package-will-have-devastating-impact-on-children-s-mental-health/> [Accessed 11 June 2021].

GOV.UK. 2021. Huge expansion of tutoring in next step of education recovery. [online] Available at: <https://www.gov.uk/government/news/huge-expansion-of-tutoring-in-next-step-of-education-recovery> [Accessed 11 June 2021].

Institute, E., 2021. Education recovery and resilience in England – Education Policy Institute. [online] Education Policy Institute. Available at: <https://epi.org.uk/publications-and-research/education-recovery-and-resilience-in-england/> [Accessed 11 June 2021].