COVID lockdown has fuelled a 50 per cent rise in children’s mental health problems, a damning report reveals.

Experts warn enforced social isolation is having a “toxic” effect on youngsters’ wellbeing.

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Research by NHS Digital reveals four in ten kids feel the lockdown has made their lives worse.

Its report reveal one in six kids aged 5 to 16 are now struggling with issues such as anxiety, depression and ADHD.

It compares with one in nine in 2017 – a rise of half in just three years.

It means in a class of 30 schoolchildren, five will now be struggling with their mental health up from three.

The findings suggest a repeat of school closures seen in the first lockdown would spell bad news for the nation’s youth.

Researcher Professor Tamsin Ford, from Cambridge University, said: “We do know that loneliness is very toxic, and social isolation is very toxic for mental health.

With months of uncertainty ahead of us, there is absolutely no room for complacency

“The amount of change that children and parents reported in the survey… and our own experiences of the pandemic would suggest very strongly that changes [to mental health] must relate to that.

“We fully expect the pandemic has definitely contributed.”

The findings comes from a survey of more than 3,500 families who were quizzed in both 2017 and July 2020.

Rates of mental disorder in boys went up from 11.4 to 16.7 per cent in that period.

For girls, the rise was from 10.3 to 15.2 per cent.

Researchers found 59 per cent of older teens with a mental disorder felt the lockdown was harmful, compared to 37 per cent of those without.

Dr Bernadka Dubicka, chair of the child and adolescent faculty at the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said: “It’s deeply distressing to see such a sharp increase in the number of young people living with a mental illness, more so as lockdown and poverty has made many of their lives significantly worse.”

Emma Thomas, chief executive of the YoungMinds charity, called for “decisive action” from ministers.

She said: "This alarming research shows the profound effect that Covid-19 has had on children and young people's mental health.

"With months of uncertainty ahead of us, there is absolutely no room for complacency."

Over a third of children reportedly suffered from anxiety about missing school, and family and friends catching coronavirus.

Anne Longfield, the children's commissioner for England said the dramatic rise in mental health problems was "extremely alarming".

She said: “It should shock the Government into immediate action to tackle a growing epidemic.

“We need a children’s mental health service that is properly funded, with no postcode lottery, so that children receive the support and treatment they need as quickly as possible.”

England’s top children’s mental health doctor says parents should be aware of the signs of mental distress.

These include being more emotional, anxiety, trouble eating or sleeping, suffering from a low mood or tearful, and bed-wetting in young children.

Professor Prathiba Chitsabesan, NHS England Associate National Clinical Director for Children and Young People’s Mental Health, said: “Simple steps like getting enough sleep, talking to friends or family and ensuring your child has a simple routine can make a huge positive difference.”

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