May is mental health awareness month. In these unprecedented times, we need to keep tabs on our mental health and our children’s mental health.
The global COVID-19 pandemic is changing many aspects of our everyday lives, and it’s something experts at SolutionHealth say can take a toll on your mental health.
“Social distancing has changed the way we live our lives. We can no longer engage in our normal routines or spend time with friends and family. This can make children feel a range of emotions. Furthermore, important events like birthdays, graduations, and proms are being canceled, postponed, or held virtually, which is a major source of disappointment. Parents losing their jobs or being furloughed due to economic conditions also puts a great deal of strain on the household, making kids feel apprehensive and upset,” Nicole Minasi, Pediatric Therapist, Southern New Hampshire Health, says.
Dr. Sarah Rocha, a psychiatrist at Elliot Health System, agrees and adds, “for some children with social anxiety or those who have been bullied, staying home may actually provide some relief now, but anxiety may be increased when they finally go back to the school building.”
Opening up about your feelings can sometimes be a challenge, especially when it comes to your children. Both Dr. Rocha and Minasi agree that it’s important to let your children know that it’s okay to discuss what’s going on and that you’re there to listen to them.
They also say if your child isn’t starting the conversation, you can start it by pointing out things that might be challenging. You could say something like, “It must be hard not being able to celebrate your birthday with your friends. Would you like to talk about this?”
They also recommend talking about your own feelings but remind parents not to force their children to talk about their feelings if they do not want to.
Both providers say, if your child’s behavior has changed in a significant way or if anxiety or sadness is preventing your child from functioning, that you should reach out to their primary care physician.
“You are the expert on your children, so when you notice a significant change in how they are behaving, it is likely a sign that they are struggling,” Minasi explains.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 7.1% of children have been diagnosed with anxiety and 3.2% have been diagnosed with depression. However, there are a great deal of children who go undiagnosed.
Symptoms of anxiety can include the following:
- Sleep disturbance
- Appetite changes
- Difficulty separating from caregivers
- Moments of intense fear
- Trouble with focus
Symptoms of depression can include the following:
- Feelings of sadness
- Feeling worthless or guilty
- Poor motivation
- Trouble with focus
- Suicidal ideation
- Moving slower or quicker than usual
- Appetite changes
Your child may also experience headaches, gastrointestinal difficulties, excessive sweating, increased urination, and muscle tightness.
To help children cope with anxiety and depression, Dr. Rocha and Minasi say parents should create a structure/schedule, like waking up and going to bed around the same time and eating meals at regular times.
They also say be creative! Do fun family activities, like movie nights and backyard picnics. Remain connected virtually with family and friends outside of your home.
Keep the news off around young children, as the visuals and content can be frightening. “When talking with teens about the pandemic, stick to the facts. Ensure you are using terms that they understand,” says Minasi.
“Individuals and society are facing many challenges right now that actually give us many opportunities for growth. We know things aren’t going to be perfect, so we will have many chances to practice self-compassion and compassion for others. Uncertainty is unavoidable right now, so we have the chance to practice acceptance of not always knowing,” Dr. Rocha explains.
“The biggest thing I want parents to know is that your children are looking to you as models of how to cope with the pandemic. It is vitally important for parents to self-care, so they are able to manage their own emotions and stress. If you are struggling, please reach out for help. This is a hard time for everyone,” Minasi says.