Wales

Coronavirus: 'Reading about virus online makes me anxious'

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Media captionBrooke wants schoolchildren to be able to talk about the challenges they face

"I think it is a difficult time and it's OK if you're struggling, because everyone's struggling."

Brooke, 17, felt anxious reading about the coronavirus outbreak on social media, so she started a book club to stay connected.

Thousands of children are currently being home schooled amid tight restrictions on people's movement.

Children's commissioner Sally Holland said their mental health was as important as their physical health.

Brooke, from Ammanford, finished school before being able to complete her GCSEs and wants other youngsters to be able to talk about the challenges they face.

"I'd stayed back a year to get my grades sorted as I'd been ill for a long time so I felt quite upset when they got cancelled," she said.

"I think it's a really tough time for everyone, as well as for young people suffering with mental health issues.

"I suffer from depression and anxiety and my whole life I've been told to get out and socialise, and now I'm being told the opposite.

"I think it is a difficult time and it's OK if you're struggling, because everyone's struggling."

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Media captionHow to promote a sense of "calm" in homes

Ms Holland urged parents and carers to be aware of the struggles children may be facing from staying inside and not seeing their friends.

"As well as doing the very important job of making sure we're all physically safe and well, we all need to look after our mental health and wellbeing as well and that includes, of course, the mental health and wellbeing of our children and young people, who may be affected by this in ways we don't yet fully understand," she said.

She said the important thing was those struggling must not "feel abandoned" and should reach out for support that is still there.

Image copyright Ceri Reed
Image caption Ceri Reed believes it is important the mental health of children in families is not neglected

When a friend of her son's died after apparently taking his own life, youth rugby team manager Louise Jenkins decided to respond by making a video of clips filmed by those who had known him.

Kian Southway from Treorchy, Rhondda, died on 31 March after being taken to hospital the previous week, and his mother said the 15-year-old had been badly affected by the coronavirus lockdown.

Athough Louise did not know Kian personally, many of the boys she works with in Penygraig Rugby Club's under-16 team had been talking about him and were clearly impacted by his death.

"They were very down and it had affected them very badly," the trainee teaching assistant told BBC News.

"I thought if we do a rugby video [we can] show him support and also show people there is support out there."

The video shows lots of different clips of boys, some from Penygraig and other Rhondda rugby youth teams and secondary schools, "throwing" a ball into and out of each clip and sending the message that "it's good to talk", as one put it.

Image copyright Louise Jenkins
Image caption Louise Jenkins contacted other rugby clubs to see if they would take part

Louise said she felt young people were suffering during the lockdown and had noticed a lot of late-night messages on the team's group chat.

"They were definitely all up for it.

"I'm just trying to say to them 'it's ok not to be ok'", she said, which is the same message Kian's family is trying to spread.

The club and local schools are offering support for young people affected by this and any other issues during the coronavirus lockdown.

Once the lockdown is lifted, Penygraig, Wattstown and Porth Harlequins under-16 are planning a memorial rugby day to raise money for a charity of the family's choosing, and are planning to mix up the team members so they are playing together, rather than one club against another.

Mother-of-three Ceri Reed founded the group Parents Voices in Wales for people whose children have mental health issues or additional learning needs.

It has 650 members and - while many struggled with the restrictions at first - she said they have now started realising what is most important for their children.

"The initial panic maybe of home learning and the strain of it all is alleviated, and it is slowing down and we're realising actually that the wellbeing of the families, of the parents and the children is a priority overall," she said.

Some parents raised concerns about the long-term impact of the coronavirus, but consultant clinical psychologist at the Aneurin Bevan health board Liz Gregory believes there are simple steps to help.

Staying CALM

She said: "In just the way anxiety spreads, so does calm. So we're trying to spread calm across homes up and down the country.

"C - create new routines and rituals, A - ask a grown up, don't let worries stay in your head.

"L - do lovely things and laugh. You can't be anxious and laugh at the same time. And M - make the most of this."

She said we are at a point in history we will look back on, adding: "What will you tell future generations about how you coped with the lockdown?"

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