Anxiety. That’s this year’s children’s word of the year, according to research conducted by Oxford University Press. This does not include laughter, adventure, or playtime. Anxiety.

Let’s take a moment to let that sink in. Childhood should bring joy and wonder. Childhood should bring joy, happiness and a sense of wonder. It’s a time to explore and learn.

Instead, our children have had instilled in them a sense of horror and fear, worry and concern so profound that the word they choose to define an entire year of their precious young lives is ‘anxiety’.

This is a terrible indictment against Project Fear. The scientists and advisers, with their wonky projections and heavy-handed approach to restrictions, have left a nation quaking in fear over death rates that never materialised and hospitals that weren’t overwhelmed.

Children must go mask-free in school to help their mental health, says Dr Max Pemberton (File photo)

Max Pemberton says children should not wear masks in school for their mental well-being. File photo.

All along, those at least risk —children — had to contend with appalling, damaging disruption to their lives for literally no discernible benefit.

Project Fear is a project that has done the same to younger generations. How does Project Fear staff get sleepy at night?

They were forbidden from visiting their friends and were forced to close down their playgrounds. The schools were closed.

Lessons were made virtual when schools eventually returned. Students were forced to stare at screens for long periods of time, every day, to be able to learn. That’s if they logged on at all.

They must still use masks to keep their mouths shut even though they’re physically in school.

I’m particularly furious with the teachers’ unions who should be utterly ashamed of themselves and the way they have played politics with this national crisis.

Rather than focusing on what is best for the children, calling for calm and trying to find ways to ensure children can be supported and keep learning, they’ve weaponised the debate at every turn. I was horrified at the way they obstructed attempts to get kids back in the classroom — the effects this alone had on their education and development will reach far into the future.

The homeschooling has only exacerbated the existing inequalities of children. Children from more wealthy homes will likely have some element of home schooling. Reports suggest that many of those living in poverty went without it for several months.

It has become more challenging for social progress made over 50 years to close the gap between the rich and the poor. And now children don’t have to wear masks in the classroom, some teachers are refusing to follow the government guidelines.

A hundred head teachers wrote to parents last week warning that children must continue wearing face coverings in classrooms, despite there being very poor evidence that masks do any good and a mountain of evidence to suggest how important it is for children’s development to be able to see a face and communicate clearly.

In his latest column, the 'mind doctor' NHS psychiatrist Dr Max Pemberton looks at mask-wearing in schools, citing that although the virus has killed people, lockdown has had a tremendously negative impact, and children are suffering most

Max Pemberton, an NHS psychiatrist and’mind doctor,’ examines mask-wearing at schools. He cites that even though the virus has claimed the lives of many people, it has also had devastating effects on children.

In fact, I feel so strongly on this issue I think parents should be able to insist their children don’t wear masks in the classroom.

I’m astonished that we have all been so compliant in this regard. Particularly galling is that I, along with others — including many doctors and health professionals — who questioned the sense of a national lockdown and the restrictions that were being put on our lives, were pilloried. I raised concerns about the effect our response to the virus was having on children’s lives, yet I was accused of being callous, uncaring, cruel and wanting people to die.

People said I was reckless, ignorant and unprofessional for merely pointing out that restrictions weren’t without their own set of costs and that children, who are at the lowest risk from the virus, would suffer most.

Although the virus is known to have killed many people and had devastating effects on their health, locking down has also been a major problem. The number of referrals to mental healthcare services has increased dramatically, especially for children.

An analysis of data conducted by the Royal College of Psychiatrists in autumn last year found that in just three months nearly 200,000 young people had been referred to mental health services — almost double pre-pandemic levels.

Our fear and anxiety became our children’s conduit. Our worries and anxieties were absorbed by them, which is bad news for their mental well-being.

Children have not only been robbed of the stability of school, many will have been in damaging environments — at best unstimulated; at worst, witnessing violence, drug use and abuse.

An inquiry into 100,000 missing pupils was initiated last week. These young people have been dubbed ‘ghost children’ because they have failed to enrol back in school and have apparently disappeared. That’s 100,000 young people who no one can find!

To think of what some of these kids have gone through makes me sick. I suspect that in years to come we’ll look back on our response to Covid and hang our heads in shame at the way we disrupted our children’s lives.

Stacey’s right about stalking 

Dr Max says Stacey Dooley's latest BBC documentary on stalking makes for a 'chilling viewing', especially regarding the mental cost for the victims featured

Dr Max believes Stacey Dooley’s BBC documentary about stalking is a chilling viewing experience, particularly considering the psychological cost to the victims.

Have you seen Stacey Dooley’s latest BBC documentary on stalking? The documentary makes for chilling viewing due to its mental impact on the victims.

It’s shocking to think that too often the police refuse to pursue concerns until ‘something actually happens’.

They are not interested until the perpetrator breaks the law, such as by breaking into someone’s house — and even then, it’s easy to lump it together with other crimes and not see it for what it is — a symptom of a pathologically intense focus on an individual.

Real stalking can be very frightening. It’s not only the fact that it could escalate into something tragic. It’s the emotional toll it takes on the victims. One of my former patients stalked me.

Stacey Dooley's latest BBC documentary on stalking, pictured. Dr Max says to make no mistake, real stalking is truly 'terrifying' because it could escalate into something tragic

Stacey Dooley’s BBC latest documentary about stalking is pictured. Dr Max states that stalking in real life is terrifying because it can escalate to something terrible.

Social media was a tool she used to learn all about me. She also contacted family and friends. She knew exactly where I resided. It was revealed that she was a stalker of another doctor, which I informed my manager. But nothing had been done.

Although many stalkers may have mental disorders, it’s not uncommon for their actions to cause havoc in the lives of others. The police and criminal justice systems must take this seriously.

I’ve often thought how ageism is the last bastion of acceptable intolerance. Is this changing? Prada’s Milan Fashion Week saw the models for Prada by Jeff Goldblum (69) and Kyle MacLachlan (62), both Hollywood stars. This led to some to suggest that attitudes toward older people are changing.

Please! Firstly, these two are men — the fashion world is less forgiving when it comes to older women. But I can’t help thinking this is a cynical ploy. The younger generation is cash-strapped. It’s not so much a change in attitudes about the old, rather it’s money talking. 

Another study has demonstrated the negative effects cannabis can have on your health. Montreal University concluded that it can damage memory and affect decision making. It has negative side effects that I observe daily in my work environment. While there’s an argument to legalise it, be under no illusion that this drug is harmless. 

Doctor Max gives…

Watercooler Moment 

Dr Max Pemberton prescribes a watercooler moment this week, as we return to the office, to start reconnecting with colleagues - to ultimately help our mental health

Dr Max Pemberton suggests a watercooler this week as we return home to the office. To start reconnecting and helping our mental health, we should be doing so with coworkers.

As we return to the office, let’s do our best to reconnect with our colleagues. Yes, they can be irritating but we are gregarious animals — interacting with each other is incredibly important so we can foster friendships and build trust.

Standing at the water cooler, which is modern day equivalent to sitting by a campfire talking and telling stories, can feel like sitting in a circle around a campfire. It’s about building connections. It’s vital to our mental health.