Experts have warned that the mental health of children is rapidly deteriorating due to the pandemic - and Government intervention is urgently needed.

Professors from the Universities of Cambridge, Bristol and Swansea found that probable mental health conditions among children and young people rose from 11% in 2017 to 16% in July 2020 - with parents reporting deteriorating mental health and increased behavioural problems among children aged four to 11 between March and May last year.

Meanwhile, a survey by the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy found that 67% of children believe the pandemic will have a longer-term effect on their mental health.

Benji's death was ruled as suicide

NHS Digital reports that one in six children aged five to 16 have experienced a diagnosable mental health disorder in 2020 - an increase of 6% from 2017.

Tamsin Ford, professor of child and adolescent psychiatry at the University of Cambridge, who led the BMJ research, told the Sunday Mirror that the UK has created a "perfect storm" of factors causing deteriorating mental health in kids, which has been heightened by the pandemic.

She said: “Socio-economic inequality has widened and worsened mental health problems in children, due to food poverty, pure diet, lack of access to services and housing.

"Parents are under more financial pressure, which is affecting both their mental health and their childrens’ - and affects the level of parenting they can offer.

"If you're out working three jobs, you're strung out when you get home and you're not going to be the most sensitive, responsive parent. Services have evaporated, the public sector has been squeezed, and we are going to pay the price for that."

Vintage filtered on silhouette of depressed girl sitting on the window sill
Poor mental health can have serious long-term effects on children (file image)

She added that poor mental health in children is "equivalent to cancer and cardiovascular disease" in its long-term effects - and that the pandemic has made all of these pre-existing issues worse.

Professor Ford’s stark warning comes as an inquest revealed that 15-year-old Benjamin Catchpole, known as Benji, took his own life just two months into lockdown last year.

The teenager, from Hartlepool, had been sent a letter telling him to shield during the first coronavirus lockdown last year, which his mum Cheryl Ann Picken said was "frustrating" him.

In her statement at Benji’s inquest, she said he hadn’t had any issues until April last year, and “he had his full life ahead of him”.

The coroner at Teesside Magistrates' Court recorded a conclusion of suicide.

'It's like he's forgotten who he is'

Natalie Reeves Billing with her children Nathaniel and Ellie

Children's author Natalie Reeves Billing, 39, from the Wirral, Merseyside, shares the heart-breaking story of her eight-year-old son Nathaniel's deteriorating mental health:

"My son is a real worry at the moment. He was on the pathway, investigating his literal outlook as a potential case of high-functioning autism. He doesn't always get the grey areas and everything is very defined. It makes his outlook quite bleak for one so young.

"He has always been like this, but now through lockdown he has started to pull out chunks of his hair, and blink loads. He also saturates his clothes by sucking on them, and we are having to change him all the time.

"We found out, after a scary episode, that he had supraventricular tachycardia (SVT) which makes his heart race, and that doesn't help with his anxiety. We are trying to manage him on a course of beta-blockers.

Nathaniel has been struggling over lockdown

"Since the school routine resumed he is more anxious than ever. He was never bothered about how he looked before, in fact, quite the opposite.

"He was the sort of boy who goes out with his clothes inside out and back to the front, wearing any combination of clothes and be completely comfortable in his skin.

"Now, he is even aware of the tiniest little cut on his body, or bruise on his skin, and I have even had to cover one with my concealer.

"He cried because I told him it may rub off during the day, had a really sad tantrum about what's the point of something that can just be wiped off. I am trying to be supportive but am very worried about him.

"It's like he's forgotten who he is or how to be with his friends and other kids.

"I work with children, and my passion is child mental health. I write about it and do a workshop about it, and now I feel I can't even fix my own son, and that brings a huge sense of failure."