IT IS 'paramount' schools remain open during the coronavirus crisis, the head of a young people's mental health charity in Wales has warned.

Kate Heneghan, of suicide prevention organisation Papyrus, told the Senedd's health committee on Wednesday that shutting down schools again would be detrimental to pupils' mental health and wellbeing.

Responding to a question from Torfaen MS Lynne Neagle, Ms Heneghan said: "I think there's no doubt now that the evidence is showing children and young people have been disproportionately affected by this pandemic – and they've been the ones that were least likely to suffer physical illness from it."

She added: "We know loneliness and isolation away from their peer groups are huge things. It is paramount that schools remain open throughout this, in my opinion, and the evidence shows this."


Shortly before the health committee meeting on Wednesday morning, Northern Ireland announced a four-week 'circuit-breaker' period of intensified restrictions, including the closure of all schools for a fortnight.

Mark Drakeford, the first minister of Wales, has also revealed "detailed planning" is under way for a Welsh 'circuit-breaker'.

Asked if schools in Wales should remain open in the event of new national restrictions, Ms Heneghan told the committee: "Yes, I would say that. We have half-term coming up, and I know in Powys there's a two-week half-term.

"Maybe extend the current half-term to two weeks [across Wales] as an interim measure to help with that circuit break, but I certainly would not want to see schools close in the same way they did during the lockdown."

The charity boss said schools were so important because they provided a "safe environment" for children who may not feel so safe at home.

She also said government had to make sure pupils could access mental health services, through their schools, if they needed help.

Sarah Stone, the executive director of Samaritans Cymru, told the committee the charity's pre-pandemic research into the effects of school exclusions showed how pupils could experience "long-term damage" if they were isolated from their peers.

The experts were also asked about support for university students during the pandemic.

Ms Heneghan said Papyrus had received "a lot of calls from students who are lonely, isolated and struggling".

Ms Stone called on government and universities to show compassion and "be pro-active about letting people know about sources of help".

Support is available at Samaritans (116 123 or and also for young people at Papyrus (0800 068 4141 or