More Than Just A Number: COVID-19 Effects on Families
Rings of hardship caused by the ripple effect of the COVID-19 pandemic continue to spread as we enter into 2021. Measures taken to stop spread of the virus have not only had an impact upon our health, but also our jobs, schools, and overall mental health. As our country continues to count the losses, it is also beginning to evaluate the negative effect the pandemic is having upon our children.
A recent study done by the Anne E. Case Foundation gave tangible proof of the negative impact COVID has on the children and families of Mississippi. The data was taken from the U.S. Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey, gathering information nation-wide from families between September and October of 2020.
Prior to the pandemic, over 10% of households had trouble putting food on the table. In this recent survey, 20% of Mississippi households with children said they sometimes or often did not have enough food to eat. School closings, normally a consistent source of food for children, have been a main factor in children’s access to food.
Families also face difficulties paying their rent or mortgage. 33% of households with children are likely to lose their home.
Unemployment is a determining factor of housing stability and food security. When a parent loses a job, health insurance, along with a paycheck, is suddenly missing from a household. These very adult-level issues have deep consequences on youngest members of these families. In order to save money, routine medical care is often pushed aside to pay for food and other necessities.
“We’ve been lucky that the direct health effects of COVID-19 have been mild in the pediatric population,” says Dr. Joshua Iles, a pediatrician in Brookhaven. “However, the indirect effects are immeasurable. These include a delay in routine well child visits where immunizations are given and chronic medical problems such as asthma and hypertension are managed.”
The added stress from a job loss, sick family members, and economic insecurity can lead to depression and exacerbate preexisting mental health issues. Children, along with their parents, are experiencing their own mental health crisis: “There has been a significant increase in pediatric depression and anxiety,” Dr Iles observes, “caused by social isolation, closing of schools, and cancellation of extracurricular activities that the pandemic has required.”
Anne Houston Craig is a licensed clinical social worker who works primarily with children and teens. She has not observed any specific trends in depression or anxiety, because those are the most common symptoms that her clients reported prior to COVID. “However, I can note that COVID has impacted all of us. Many people who were coping well with their symptoms prior to COVID have returned for sessions, as well as new clients. Many of our go-to coping skills are no longer accessible. Hanging out with friends, going to a movie or to the gym have all been limited during the pandemic.”
If you or someone you love is experiencing difficulties in these areas, there are things you can do to help. Anne Houston Craig reminds, “One of the best things a parent can do during these times is role model positive coping skills. Communicate with your children that while we may be stressed, they are safe. Reassure them that people are working on a solution. If you or your child need additional help, reach out! Most therapists are offering telehealth. Insurance companies are onboard, so it is covered and you do not need to leave your house. You don’t even have to own a computer. All you need is a smartphone.”
Sarah Lowman Reynolds is a freelance writer living in Brookhaven, MS. Visit her blog www.SouthernFriedLove.org to get to know her better.