THE devastating toll of the Covid-19 pandemic on young people’s mental health has been revealed, with health professionals in Bradford seeing “intense distress” and children as young as 10 self-harming.

The issue has been put in the spotlight in the latest diary penned by Professor John Wright, an epidemiologist and director of the Bradford Institute for Health Research, based at the Bradford Royal Infirmary.

He has played a key role in the district’s response to Covid-19 and has been sharing his insight for a BBC diary throughout the pandemic.

Prof Wright said it has had a “deep impact” on children, who are arriving in A&E in greater numbers - and at younger age - after self-harming or taking overdoses.

He said: “Children are a lost tribe in the pandemic. While they remain (for the most part) perplexingly immune to the health consequences of Covid-19, their lives and daily routines have been turned upside down. From surveys and interviews carried out for the Born in Bradford study, we know that they are anxious, isolated and bored, and we see the tip of this iceberg of mental ill health in the hospital. Children in mental health crisis used to be brought to A&E about twice a week. Since the summer it’s been more like once or twice a day. Some as young as 10 have cut themselves, taken overdoses, or tried to asphyxiate themselves. There was even one child aged eight.”

A&E consultant Dave Greenhorn said lockdown “massively exacerbates” pre-existing mental health issues, while Ruth Tolley, a matron on paediatric ward, said much younger children are now self-harming. Eating disorders are also on the rise, along with overdoses and cases where children rush from the house and behave recklessly or dangerously on the street. One child psychiatrist who works with Bradford’s Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services said the severity of the work has increased.

He said: “We have been seeing more intense distress. Young people are in a worse state than usual.”

The diary outlines the story of one teenager, Seema (not her real name), who attempted suicide and started self-harming when exams were cancelled last summer.

“We tried very hard for our exams - you’re taught that your entire future revolves around these exams, but that crumbles right in front of you and it’s really shocking. It has a huge impact,” she said.

“I felt like stabbing myself… I was in a constant state of anxiety.”

She is now 17 and getting help, but misses contact she would have at school and would like online groups to be organised for students to socialise, not just meet for lessons.

Prof Wright said: “One crucial beneficial change that has come out of this epidemic of mental ill-health is that professionals from all the different agencies in Bradford have come together to support the children in their time of crisis.”

Covid has brought services closer together, but Prof Wright said it’s “little consolation for the damage that is being done to children’s lives”.

He said: “The past 10 months of lockdown and school closures may have seemed unending for parents, but for a 10-year-old it will have felt like a lifetime. Their youth is being stolen from them.”