Children are suffering poor mental health as a result of the coronavirus lockdown a senior NHS director has warned, as experts revealed the virus could infect the brain and lead to psychiatric conditions lasting more than a decade.
Professor Tim Kendall, NHS England‘s national clinical director for mental health, told a Royal Society of Medicine webinar today that “there’s no doubt” children were being hit hard by the impact of the lockdown and he added NHS trusts had been told to “be more assertive and go out and find children” who were in difficulty.
His warning comes as psychiatrists and mental health charities have warned of a “tsunami” of poor mental health as thousands of patients recover from needing intensive care treatment as well as the effects of lockdown and the impact on the economy.
Neuroscientist professor Ed Bullmore, from Cambridge University, said there was enough evidence now to describe the SARS-CoV-2 virus as causing a “neurotoxic illness” and said it was possible the psychiatric effects could last beyond a decade.
He said research had shown a number of Covid-19 patients experienced a “kind of altered mental state” adding this included “cases of psychosis mood disorder and cognitive impairment coming”.
“We don’t know necessarily the causes of that neurotoxicity. It could be that the virus infects the brain. It could be that the immune response to the virus damages the brain, or it could be the blood supply to the brain, all those mechanisms look plausible at the moment.”
He said data from the previous Sars and Mers coronavirus infections showed the potential for long-term damage.
“When you look at the sort of longer term psychiatric sequelae [disease consequences] of those epidemics they’re pretty severe.
“Up to 12 years of follow up after the acute illness. They were finding quite high frequencies of post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety, insomnia and mild cognitive impairment. This is an illness that we need to take very seriously from a psychiatric and neurological point of view, not just right now, but perhaps for months and years to come.”
Professor Kendall, a consultant psychiatrist, told the webinar a “key concern” for him was the mental health of children.