COVID and Childhood Mental Health: How You Can Help
January 23, 2022
"Even before the onset of coronavirus, mental health professionals were struggling to meet the needs of the one in five children and adolescents with a mental health or learning disorder. Then the pandemic hit, bringing an upsurge in youth reporting mental health challenges. In surveys now, about 30–40% of young people say they feel anxious, depressed and/or stressed. Parents tell the same story when asked about their kids."
The 2021 report on childhood mental health challenges from the Child Mind Institute documents nothing of which most parents weren't already aware. Youth suicide attempts way up (increased by 4% among boys and an astounding 51% among young girls). So what do we do with this information?
- Step one: Identify the kids who are most affected. The report points to those who were already vulnerable - children locked in poverty, LGBTQ kids, young people with unstable home lives, those already exhibiting symptoms of depression and anxiety, especially those who have never sought treatment.
- Step two: Be aware of the warning signs that child's mental health is a crisis .Among toddlers and the very young, this could be increased irritability, fussiness, striking out (like hitting, or biting), stomach pain. For older children, many exhibit stress (COVID-related and otherwise) by a loss of interest in schoolwork and in activities that they once found enjoyable, stepping back from personal contacts and relationships, eating and sleeping problems, and changes in personal appearance and hygiene (exacerbated by the isolation imposed by the pandemic).
- Step three: Find places and people to whom you can turn for help, and DO IT: There has never been a time when it is more important to stay connected to your child's pediatrician. But how to start the discussion with your child? As a parent, you can bring up concerns about your child's mental health, without judgment and with sensitivity, either at a well-child visit or whenever concerns arise. It's often a good idea to talk with your child ahead of time. Consider starting the conversation by assuring, "I care about you and want to make sure I understand how you're feeling. Your doctor is someone who can help.
The Child Mind Institute is a wealth of parental and family information about helping children deal with mental health problems. The Family Resource Center is a great first stop for adults who are concerned about a child in their lives. The topics are explained in human-speak that anyone can understand and from which anyone can learn. Topics include anxiety, learning disorders, autism, social media use and many others. Start by visiting https://childmind.org/resources