Claire Murdoch said there was “absolutely no evidence” of a spike in suicides or self-harm, but she is “pretty certain” that distress, anxiety, worry and depression in children and young people are increasing.
Murdoch told MPs in the Health and Social Care Committee: “There have been various studies as we’ve seen, in fact for adults as well, everybody is more worried. Lots of people are sleeping less, lots of people are worried about all kinds of things.
“But I do think it’s very important that we don’t succumb at this stage to a narrative of massive spikes in suicide and that we’re very responsible in how we understand the evidence there.”
She told MPs they were working with Public Health England on developing a tool and a process to gather information from various sources to monitor any potential increase in self-harm or suicide amongst youngsters.
Since the lockdown was put in place, several stories have emerged of people who reportedly took their own lives, with the restrictions on social contact contributing to their mental health.
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Murdoch said there had been a ballpark drop in referrals to mental health services of between 30% and 40%, but said she was expecting to see increased referrals after the lockdown is lifted, and for demand to increase “significantly” for years after the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We know from our Grenfell experience that not all need for clinical services materialises at the time and, indeed, there’s a very long tail and demand in trauma,” she added.
“The truth is we don’t yet know what additional demand will be as a result of this dreadful pandemic.
“We do fully expect it will increase significantly, whether that’s bereavement, we know that post-traumatic stress disorder is prevalent amongst those who have been on ventilators in intensive care, loved ones who perhaps lost dear ones that they couldn’t be with at the end of life, and so on and so forth.”