Covid on the Mind: Mental Health in Kids
March, 2020 shifted the school year in ways we never anticipated. The uncertainty of the school season for 2019-2020 was soon clarified with an April, 2020 order to keep schools closed for the remainder of the school year.
The summer to follow left many to wonder what the 2020-2021 school year would look like. Schools took various approaches to manage a safe return environment for students while gradually transitioning — in most places — back to full, in-person learning for most students.
Studies have shown that the impact on the mental health of everyone — including our kids — can not be understated.
Joan Hampton (MS, LPC) is a professional counselor at Oasis Mental Health in Gulfport.
“We are definitely seeing more students with depression and anxiety in our practice,” Hampton said. She reports one of the main sources of anxiety for children is related to concerns about the health of their parents should they contract COVID-19, and concerns about being a source of virus exposure for their parents.
“I recommend parents talk to their children in a family meeting about the precautions being taken, and reassure them not to worry,” Hampton suggested.
As schools closed, sports were cancelled along with social engagements, including school dances and other functions. Curfews and other restrictions on movements, sizes of gatherings, and thus, in many instances, locations for children to engage outside of school closed as well. With school now always poised to possibly close for periods of time when COVID-19 cases increase, this problem continues.
“Let the children go out and play outside, and participate in activities with proper precautions in place,” Hampton said. “Do not neglect social activities, but keep them safe and small.”
Hampton further suggests that children be taught to focus on what they can still do, and not on what they can no longer do. She also states that parents should be mindful of adult conversations and expressions of worry. Children will pick up on the content of these, as a gauge for the level of concern they will need.
The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry mentions some signs and symptoms of depression. A parent should become concerned when their child’s behavior begins to shift in ways that impact their personality. Examples might include a child becoming more withdrawn, or no longer interested in activities that were once considered exciting. Your child becoming more clingy might be a sign of struggling. Children may also begin to act out more, or seem to no longer mind being apart from you. Your child might have a disturbance in the sleep pattern. Some children will also begin to complain of various vague symptoms — such as headaches or stomach aches — while some may even become ill enough to throw up.
The Anxiety and Depression Association of America notes that some children will express when they are feeling anxious, hopeless or worried about death or dying. If any of these occur, seek an evaluation with your primary care provider or with a mental health professional.
Above all else, be sure to listen to your intuition. If something seems off, then get help. It is never the wrong answer to let a professional evaluate.
Alicia Stevens , a resident of Pearl River County, is a freelance writer, wife and mother of two who enjoys traveling with her family and friends.