A Pivotal Day at the House of Commons: Shaping the Future of Children’s Mental Health

In this blog, our Adult Mental Health Ambassador Emma shares her experience of visiting the House of Commons to discuss the impact of COVID-19 on children’s mental well-being.

Two weeks ago, I found myself walking the historic halls of the House of Commons, not just as a visitor, but as an advocate for change. It was a moment that underscored the power of community, collaboration, and the pressing need to address the silent crisis affecting our youngest generation: the impact of COVID-19 on children’s mental well-being. This opportunity, courtesy of Jason Baker and Healthwatch Essex, was not just an honour but a call to action—a moment to voice the unspoken struggles of our children.

During a crucial meeting from 5 pm to 6 pm, I, alongside other guests, delved deep into a topic that has long been brushed aside: the concealed trauma of our children post-COVID. It’s a concern that cannot be overstated; children, adapt at masking their pain, might not show signs of distress now, but what of the future? What happens in 10-20 years when the unresolved scars of isolation, anxiety, and disruption manifest into significant mental health challenges? My query to the assembly was straightforward yet profound: ‘Why wait for the symptoms to surface? Why not step in now, especially within the educational realm, to pre-emptively address these issues?’

The response, or lack thereof, was telling. It highlighted a gap in our understanding and approach to children’s mental health—a gap we are now poised to bridge. The message was clear: prevention over cure. We need to foster environments that encourage early intervention, education, and rehabilitation.

A collection of photos of Emma and the House of Commons building

Emma at the House of Commons

The insights shared by our guest speakers added layers of urgency and depth to our discussion. Dr Tamsin Newlove-Delgado, an associate mental health and wellbeing researcher at Exeter University, presented staggering statistics that painted a worrying trend: 1 in 9 children were struggling with mental health issues in 2017, now an alarming 1 in 5 in 2024. Her research underscored the profound, lasting impact of the pandemic, particularly on younger and neurodiverse children. However, research is done on these children due to them already showing signs of poor mental health, so my question to her was ‘How do we continue this? Are children who aren’t showing signs at risk? Or as they aren’t showing signs we shouldn’t intervene?’

I explained the impact of children suppressing trauma. I spoke about my story and my brother’s story. He didn’t show signs of poor mental health, however now aged 28 he has accessed the mental health services – all due to what he witnessed when I was in hospital at the age of 12. I explained these children will be the ones who access the mental health services in 10-20 years time, who may struggle to maintain relationships and/or a job. How can we support these children? Will research be carried out and continued on children who have not yet shown signs?

Steven Kingdom, advocating for disabled children and their families, shed light on a poignant reality—some children have yet to return to school, their conditions worsening without access to necessary treatments.

Lois, a play therapist, brought to the forefront the developmental delays induced by COVID, sharing first-hand accounts of children now behind their age-appropriate milestones, but also the lack of connection between services to help make sure children don’t fall through the gaps, which they often do.

The conversation, enriched by these diverse perspectives, emphasised a collective responsibility: to support open discussions, advocate for early interventions, and champion the mental health of our children. The time for action is now. We cannot afford to wait until the problems surface; we must address them at their roots.

When I stepped on the Ipswich train station at 2pm I was a bag of nerves and constantly thinking of the day ahead, this amazing opportunity and the chance to speak about something I am passionate about at the House of Commons! The day didn’t disappoint and it was honestly the most surreal day and when I left Westminster at 7pm that evening I was beaming with pride, I felt powerful and honoured to have been a voice to many that can not or won’t be heard! We’ve taken a significant step towards acknowledging and addressing the silent epidemic of post-pandemic child mental health. It’s a journey that demands our immediate attention, compassion, and action.

The path forward is clear—through early intervention, education, and rehabilitation, we can pave the way for a healthier, more resilient generation. Let’s unite in this cause, for the sake of our children and the future we hope to shape for them.

To everyone at Healthwatch Essex and all who are working tirelessly in this field, thank you. Your dedication inspires hope and drives change. Together, we can—and will—make a difference.

Emma, Adult Mental Health Ambassador

Emma is the founder of Muscle Mind Wellness, which advocates for early intervention for eating disorders following her experience of Anorexia Nervosa in her teenage years.