Dr. Adrian James, president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said not all children will be able to bounce back from the impact of the last two years.
It comes after campaigners called for a separate COVID-19 inquiry for children, who they say have been “more disproportionately burdened” than any other group.
In the draft terms of reference of the UK’s COVID-19 Inquiry published on March 15, the Cabinet Office listed a wide range of areas the inquiry is expected to examine in terms of government responses to the pandemic, including preparedness and resilience, decision-making process, the use of lockdowns and other “non-pharmaceutical” interventions, government spending, and the “restrictions on attendance at places of education.”
But the terms did not explicitly mention the words “child,” “children,” or “mental health.”
The public consultation on the draft terms of reference is open until 11:59 p.m. on April 2.
James on Tuesday told The Telegraph that he believes children’s mental health must be included in any inquiry into the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The pandemic has had an enormous impact on the mental health of children and young people. While many children will bounce back from this experience, some children will experience longer-term mental health problems,” James said.
“Any inquiry into the COVID-19 pandemic must ensure it investigates effects on children and young people’s mental health, making sure their voices are heard as part of the process,” he added.
An analysis of NHS data by the Royal College of Psychiatrists, published on March 15, showed that mental health services in England received a record 4.3 million referrals during 2021, including 1.025 million referrals of under-18s.
The analysis said some 424,963 children were in contact with mental health services in December 2021 compared with 367,403 in December 2019.
Commenting on the analysis, James said that staff in the sector were “working flat-out” and demanded the government devise a “fully funded plan for mental health services, backed by a long-term workforce plan, as the country comes to terms with the biggest hit to its mental health in generations.”
The representative body of psychiatrists on Tuesday published the result of another UK-wide survey 2,247 people, suggesting the mental health of just under one in three adults in the UK has deteriorated over the past two years.
Student representatives have also criticised the inquiry’s draft terms of reference for its lack of focus on university students—36 percent of whom reported deterioration of their mental health and well-being since the start of the Autumn 2021 term, according to data from the Office for National Statistics.
The government said the experiences of children and students are in the scope of the inquiry.
“Following the publication of the draft COVID inquiry terms of reference, there is now an ongoing period of public engagement and consultation being led by Baroness Hallett to inform further changes to the terms before they are finalised,” a spokesperson said.
COVID-19 is the disease caused by the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, commonly known as novel coronavirus.