Surge in mental health struggles for Peterborough pupils during Covid pandemic

There has been a surge in mental health struggles for pupils in Peterborough with many desperate to return to the classroom.
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A mental health action team consisting of pupils from five city schools presented findings at a virtual summit on Monday which was attended by MP for Peterborough Paul Bristow.

The meeting, coordinated by Peterborough Citizens UK, was a follow-up to one held last month which saw promises of action to address current flaws in local mental health provision.

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The action group is seeking increased funding for youth mental health in the city and a response to the impact of Covid-19 on children and young people.

Pupils in Peterborough have suffered with their mental health during the Covid pandemicPupils in Peterborough have suffered with their mental health during the Covid pandemic
Pupils in Peterborough have suffered with their mental health during the Covid pandemic

It claims that the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Clinical Commissioning Group is the 12th worst performing in the country for youth mental health services, and that pupils seeking support have felt “patronised” and “disrespected”.

Among the personal testimonies shared on Monday was that: “The pandemic has put a huge strain on many young people who were and weren’t already struggling with mental through self-isolation, loss of routine and a breakdown in formal and informal support.”

Surveys have been carried out among pupils at The Peterborough School, The King’s (The Cathedral) School, Thomas Deacon Academy, St John Fisher Catholic High School and Ormiston Bushfield Academy to find out the causes of young people’s mental health issues, their coping mechanisms, if they believe there are sufficient services and if they are aware of what support is available.

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A study at King’s, which received 331 responses, revealed that the percentage of pupils with poor mental health has grown from 15.6 per cent pre-Covid to 43.7 per cent now.

A majority (63.2 per cent) said being back at school had a positive impact on their mental health, although 59.4 per cent said there was not enough support in school.

Asked what affected their mental health, 48.5 per cent said loneliness, 43.7 per cent said interrupted learning and 39.4 per cent said exams.

A “large proportion” of pupils were said to be missing friends, as well as sport and exercise, while self-harm was also said to be rising.

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Testimony from one student was read out, which stated: “I have generalised anxiety disorder. Currently I am at the lowest I’ve ever been. All the coping mechanisms I’ve built have been stripped away by Covid.

“My lack of control means I can become violent towards others and myself. I was eating disorderly for around half a year and considered self-harm.

“The impact of Covid on adolescent mental health is drastic and it’s imperative that something be done about it.”

The CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services) in Peterborough were also criticised, with one person stating: “I was overwhelmed by the vast number of one star reviews I was seeing with the unruly waiting times, missing appointments, rude receptionists and patronising workers.”

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Mr Bristow praised the work from the pupils, stating: “I’ve been incredibly impressed by what you’ve achieved so far.”

Addressing the points raised, he highlighted a lack of funding for the CCG, but said its performance could not be just down to that.

Calling for a culture of “change” and “innovation,” he added that the pandemic has done “a great deal of damage to the mental health of our young people. Lockdown for so many is misery and you articulated that with some of the things you talked about.

“The testimonies you shared were troubling to listen to and I just want to ensure we get back as quickly and as safely as possible.

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“I’ve got influence, and if I can help you pilot with different ways of providing mental health services which are more accessible, friendly and empathetic, and we don’t get horrible words like ‘patronising’ and ‘confused’, then I think we can make a difference.

“We want to learn best practice from what’s happened elsewhere in the country in terms on young people’s mental health. I think that’s the next step while continuing to make the case for fairer funding for our county.”