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Depression in children and adolescents is increasing – especially in girls

Depression in children and adolescents is increasing – especially in girls

They often suffer in secret: Since the pandemic, many girls and boys have been struggling with depression and anxiety. Their families often despair when looking for a therapy place.

At first, even family and friends are often not aware of the changes. Young people withdraw, speak little and hardly get out of bed in the morning. During the course of the pandemic, mental disorders among young people increased significantly. Instead of confiding in their mother or a friend, some start injuring themselves – often with razor blades on their arms and legs. The so-called scratching is particularly common among girls and boys with mental problems or illnesses.

The “scratching” in the Corona lockdown 2020 also started with his child, as a father from Lower Saxony told the German Press Agency. The family doctor initially reassured him that many young people had tried it. However, during the initial consultation with a child and youth therapist, an incipient depression was identified. For months the family then searched in vain for a psychotherapist for outpatient therapy, in between there were stays in the clinic. Eventually, the child ran away from home with another teenager and was only found days later.

When a child becomes mentally ill, the world of the parents and siblings also falls apart. Added to this is the grueling search for support, says the father. He wrote e-mails and phoned therapists and clinics. He went to the youth welfare office and wrote a letter to Federal Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) asking for help. “You don’t have a timetable and you’re completely left on your own,” he says. There are always bureaucratic obstacles. For a year and a half, the family then paid for a therapist privately. He first described his odyssey to the “Cellesche Zeitung”.

Children and young people need psychological help more often after Corona

Several studies show that children and young people suffered particularly during the Corona period: sports and music were stopped overnight, friends were no longer allowed to be seen. As can be seen from data from the health insurance company DAK, depression and eating disorders increased sharply, especially among girls between the ages of 15 and 17. For many, the problems persisted.

The demand for psychotherapists who treat children and young people was 48 percent higher in the summer of 2022 than in the pre-Corona period. This was the result of a survey by the German Association of Psychotherapists. The child and adolescent therapist Cornelia Metge from Zschopau in Saxony sees in her practice that many children have massive fears in everyday life as a result of the pandemic. “As a society, we have a responsibility and an obligation to support these children,” emphasizes Metge, who is a member of the board of the Federal Chamber of Psychotherapists (BPtK).

Metge observes that because of the shortage of teachers in schools, important things are neglected in addition to pure knowledge transfer. “School should also be a meeting place; a place where you can also tell people that you have problems and difficulties at home. There is far too little time for that,” she complains.

In addition, prevention must be given a higher priority. “Mental health should be an integral part of the classroom,” says Metge. Even with young children it is possible to discuss: What makes me happy, what makes me sad? There can already be courses on stress reduction or dealing with conflicts in daycare and primary school.

Demands to integrate mental health into school lessons

The federal government has decided on a package of measures intended to cushion the consequences of the pandemic for children and young people. One focus is mental health. Among other things, so-called mental health coaches are to support particularly stressed schools in a model project.

The Professional Association of German Psychologists (BDP) criticizes that this temporary model project in no way meets the requirements. Rather, the international standard in the supply of school psychologists must finally be striven for.

“It would be ideal if there was one school psychologist for no more than 1,500 students, as in other European countries,” says Andrea Spies, Chair of the BDP’s School Psychology Section. “With us the ratio is 1 to 5,400, in some federal states such as Saxony-Anhalt, Lower Saxony and Brandenburg it is even worse.” School psychological counseling is currently in greater demand than ever. “The psyche always reacts to crises with a time lag and usually lasts longer,” emphasizes Spies.

Mentally ill adolescents usually have to wait months for a place for outpatient therapy. According to a survey by the University of Leipzig, it was an average of 25 weeks during the Corona period. The Federal Chamber of Psychotherapists is calling for a change in needs planning. Outside of metropolitan areas and in the Ruhr area, a total of 1,600 additional psychotherapist seats are needed. According to legal requirements, 20 percent of all seats must be reserved for children and young people.

Depression often affects children who are already disadvantaged

What are the risk factors for mental illness in children and adolescents? It often affects children from poorer families, with single mothers, parents with psychological problems or those who live in cramped living conditions. “We had an intact family with no money problems,” says the father from Lower Saxony. Bullying at school before Corona probably also played a role in his child, the cell phone and internet times got out of hand during the lockdown, and at the same time beloved hobbies and club sports fell away.

Mental illnesses are often the reason why girls and boys do not complete school, also because of the long periods of absenteeism in the acute phases. When an illness becomes chronic, it has negative effects throughout life. “Mental health is still not taken seriously in our society and mental illness is taboo,” criticizes school psychologist Spies. “Children and young people have suffered the most during the pandemic. Politicians would therefore be well advised to draw up a master plan now.”

Tanja Brunnert, deputy spokeswoman for the professional association of paediatricians, says: “Overall, in our normal day-to-day practice, we still have to deal with mental health problems in children and young people more often than we did before the pandemic.” From the point of view of the pediatrician from Göttingen, it would make sense to have more low-threshold offers from the municipalities, i.e. family advice centers, as they already exist in many cities. But it is also important to strengthen the offers of sports clubs, youth fire brigades or scout groups. “These offer children and young people structure in their free time and promote behavior in a group of peers.”

Source: Stern

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