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We all have role to play in helping kids' mental health, says Beverland



Crusaders defender Howard Beverland

Crusaders defender Howard Beverland

Crusaders defender Howard Beverland

Crusaders defender Howard Beverland believes the coronavirus pandemic could have a significant impact on young people's mental health in Northern Ireland.

The deadly virus has plunged the world into uncertainty and as Northern Ireland is in lockdown, the constant depressing news about the pandemic can feel relentless.

All of this is taking its toll on people's mental health, particularly those already living with conditions like anxiety and OCD.

Beverland is a social worker for the Child Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS) in the Northern Trust area, helping kids up to the age of 18, and he recognises the fear of being out of control can heighten anxiety.

With sports clubs shutting down and schools closing, that structure and support in young people's lives has been ripped away.

Former Coleraine skipper Beverland, who is still seeing kids in the high-risk category, says he's concerned how the pandemic will affect young people.

"Anxiety among teenagers and kids is one of the fastest growing mental health concerns we have," said Beverland. "Some kids aren't attending school through that anxiety and they can be off school for months.

"We would also see kids with health anxiety and this virus could see an increase in referrals.

"Self-harm is another big worry. Suicide rates in Northern Ireland are higher than anywhere else in the UK. From 2009 to October 2018, 144 children or young people under the age of 19 took their own lives.

"Other statistics show that in Northern Ireland, almost all (95%) of the 15-21-year-olds in the criminal justice system have at least one mental health problem. You also have young people who have suicidal thoughts and we offer them the best help we can. There's no doubt parenting has a big impact and it's so important for kids to have the right guidance in their formative years."

With sport in lockdown, people of all ages are also being denied that sense of togetherness and belonging.

"Football, and other sports, are great for giving kids a routine and it has physical, mental and social benefits," added Beverland. "You need to be focused to play football and it's a distraction to other things in life. Without sport, people can become more isolated but certainly at a higher level sport can also affect mental health."

Northern Ireland's schools have also closed to the majority of young people, sparking fears they have lost that support network.

"It's important for kids to have role models and they can be found in schools," said Beverland. "Young people can learn how to interact in schools. Teachers can have a close relationship with their pupils and even identify problems.

"On a positive note, there is more awareness about mental health and improved services but the number of young people waiting to be seen has increased and the services are stretched but there is important work going on in the communities and churches. I'd like to see more training for staff in schools."

With young people spending more time at home, they could be online for longer periods, making screen time a major factor in mental and physical health.

"I feel the negatives outweigh the positives with social media," added Beverland. "It's very easy to be selfish and think, 'I'm okay'. You can see people's priorities in the supermarket. We should love our neighbours like ourselves and there's probably never been a more important time to do that.

"I think young people crave stability and some of them are not as resilient as they'd like to be. There is cyber bullying online and for girls, body image is an issue on social media. The earlier we can identify the issue, the better chance we have to resolve it."

A spotlight was shone on mental health in the Irish League this season following the tragic loss of Carrick player Jerry Thompson (24).

"I think we should also have greater support for the 18 to 30 age group in our society, it's a key age group and if you look at the Irish League we lost Carrick player Jerry Thompson who was 24," added Beverland.

"I would look at a person holistically and see their social, emotional, physical, mental and spiritual aspect and consider how one impacts on the other.

"We all have a role to play, not just professionals, when it comes to helping promote and support mental health of young people."

Belfast Telegraph