The Pandemic and Children’s Mental Health
We are in the 16th month of this pandemic. The pandemic has been a difficult time for many people. We have experienced unprecedented challenges as a society and personally. Living through this much isolation, financial stress, anxiety, as well as fear and loss has all the potential to increase poor mental health outcomes. As adults and parents we have had to reach out and check in with ourselves regularly to stay aware of our mental health and other physical challenges during this season. The children who have been living through this pandemic also need that same attention we have been giving ourselves. Children are extremely resilient! This does not mean they are immune to mental health struggles or don’t require help themselves at times too.
Children can feel the stress from their parents as well if they are watching them lose their job and look for work. Even feeling the parent’s anxiety about the pandemic itself and trying to stay safe. Adults are not the only ones feeling an increase of anxiety, depression, and frustration. Children have had to make large transitions themselves during this pandemic as well that can be extremely stressful and disturb their mental wellness. Children have had to change to online learning and needing to stay engaged, stay on top of all their school work, and battle technological challenges all while being at home in a completely different environment than they are used to. This adjustment has caused strain on many children’s mental wellness showing in behavioral issues, poor grades, lack of interest in their normal hobbies and activities, as well as increased social isolation.
These kids have been robbed of a year of their childhood. They lost their normal play dates with friends at the park, birthday parties with their friends, class field trips, proms, dances, and other hallmarks of childhood that we all had the opportunity to experience growing up. Some events like graduation and graduation parties or prom, that these children have been looking forward to for so long was taken away from them by this pandemic and they have been forced to adapt.
“A Mental Health America report based on surveys conducted in 2020 found 11- to 17-year-olds were more likely than any other age group to score for moderate to severe symptoms of anxiety and depression throughout the pandemic. The same research found more than half of kids surveyed reported having thoughts of suicide or self-harm.” (Sternberg, 2021)
This data collected from Mental Health America shows statistically how negatively impacted many children have been during this pandemic. Some kids may need extra support of care to move through this year and develop the coping skills to move forward. Coping skills are a skill set each individual uniquely has to ease the impact of negative mental health outcomes and overall life stresses. Coping skills can help one combat these thoughts and feelings of anxiety, depression, suicide, and self-harm.
Coping skills can be a wide range of activities. Some children utilize talking to their friends on the phone or on social media to stay connected and communicate. Some kids can even reach out for support from their friends this way. A social support system is a great coping skill that can help increase a child’s resiliency in a time like this. Other children may find reading a great book to be a great coping skill and may find it as a great tool to take a break from what is happening around them and get lost in the story their reading and others may do this with watching TV shows or movies. Another type of coping skill that can be especially helpful for thoughts and feelings of anxiety is deep breathing and grounding exercise. Breathing exercises can range from a belly breathe (breathing into your stomach and having it rise as you breathe in and fall as you breathe out) or counting breathe (breathing in counting to four and then out counting for four, or breathing in for four, holding your breathe for seven and breathing out counting to 8). Breathing can help slow your heart rate and other physiological symptoms that are sometimes present with anxiety as well as increase one’s ability to be present in the moment, or being mindful. Grounding exercises such as saying the ABC’s, listing the U.S. states, and naming 5 things you can hear, 4 things you can feel, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell, and one thing you can taste. This is another way to increase mindfulness and can be a great coping skills. Some children may love playing outside or being outside in nature. Being outside, playing in the dirt, and getting sun can be a great coping skill. Sun can give you that vitamin D and increase your brains happy hormones! Coping skills are very individualistic and what works for you or another child may not work for you child. Coping skills can be very creative as well. If it is something that makes you happy, calm, or you like doing it, it can probably be a coping skill!
Going to counseling and talking to someone is a great coping skill as well. It is not an indication or weakness of lack of resilience; it is an indication of self awareness and strength to make the decision to help oneself or help your child get help. That is what counseling is here for. Providing a space to process these thoughts and feelings of depression, anxiety, sadness, suicide, and self-harm. If you had a cold that wasn’t going away or was getting worse, you would go to the doctor. The doctor would give you a check up, listen to your symptoms and create a plan of actions like taking medication. If your mental health is in need of improvement, getting worse, or just needs a check up that’s what we are here for.
Despite school’s re-opening and society returning to a sense of normalcy, some kids may struggle to re-engage with their lives as they were pre-pandemic and I am sure some adults can empathize with this feeling. The way these children’s lives have been uprooted may create more persistent mental health issues that go beyond the re-opening of society. We have a great opportunity to intervene during the beginning of the presentation of symptoms. This is exceptionally advantageous since “75% of all lifetime mental illness begins before 24” (Sternberg, 2021). It is important to understand the variety of factors that impact children’s mental health.
“…we need to understand the intersection of children’s mental health with so many important factors. That includes physical health, education, workplace capacity, social equity, and criminal justice reform, just to name a few. If we can understand how these factors are interconnected, we can help address social inequity and prevent the criminalization of youth, especially in vulnerable communities while impacting mental health.” (Sternberg, 2021)
Understanding the variety of impacting forces of children’s mental health gives us a better opportunity to help them achieve mental wellness and stability. Mental health outcomes do not occur in a vacuum, many factors impact and increase or decrease mental wellness. Not nearly enough has been done to meet the needs of our children during this unprecedented time and we owe it to our children to make a difference for them and the coming generations. Acting now gives them an opportunity to come out of this difficult time stronger and better equipped to handle whatever life may bring them next” (Sternberg, 2021).
If you or someone you know has a child or adolescent that needs some extra support during this time or has had a difficult time mentally from the pandemic and subsequent life stressors please contact Life Enhancement Counseling Services today at (407)-443-8862 to schedule an appointment with one of our experienced mental health counselors.