COVID-19 pandemic has brought on significant mental health challenges for children, adolescents, and adults worldwide. Therapists have seen the number of clients presenting with anxiety and depression increase significantly over the last year. Underlying mental health issues, exacerbated by the dramatic changes in our society, are linked to disruptions in work schedules/job loss, remote learning, uncertainty about the future, and increased isolation. Additionally, some families have experienced the loss of loved ones related to COVID-19; grief has complicated the underlying emotional turmoil individuals face. Experiencing a whirlwind of new demands and the ever shifting landscape regarding COVID-19 precautions, parents often feel overwhelmed in identifying whether their children are experiencing transitory stress symptoms or whether they are facing more intense mental health challenges. Whether it be increased meltdowns, avoidance behaviors, or increased fighting at home with siblings, such outward displays may reflect internal feelings of distress. It may be particularly hard for children to put their feelings into words. Before concerning yourself with HOW to help, first know WHAT are the warning signs that your child may benefit from consultation with a mental health provider.
Young children warning signs:
- Frequent tantrums or irritability
- Often talk about fears or worries
- Somatic complaints (e.g., headaches or stomachaches) with no known medical cause
- Sleep disturbance, frequent nightmares, or difficulty staying awake during the day
- Loss of interest in playing with other children or having difficulty making friends
- New academic struggles or declining grades
- Repetitively checking behaviors (e.g., checking the doors are locked) out of fear that something bad may happen
Older children and adolescents warning signs:
- Loss of interest in things that were once enjoyable
- Low energy
- Sleep disturbance
- Withdrawn behaviors or avoidance of social activities
- Weight loss/gain
- Engagement in self-harming behaviors
- Substance use
- Engagement in risky or destructive behavior alone or with friends
- Suicidal ideation or behaviors
- Have periods of highly elevated energy and activity and require much less sleep than usual
(adapted from NIMH » Children and Mental Health: Is This Just a Stage?)
If you notice any of the warning signs above, there are several steps you can take to best support your loved one. Below are the top five steps recommended by professionals:
- Talk about mental health. – The more mental health discussion they hear and participate in, the more likely they will reach out when something does not feel right.
- Check in routinely and build trust. – Help them become more self-aware. By checking in with them, you are helping them to check in more with themselves. Additionally, this provides more opportunity to build trust in your relationship.
- Listen and validate their feelings. – By being empathic, you are teaching your child that it is ok to have those feelings and provide a sense of normalcy. While parents can’t always fix the problems our children experience, we can provide a listening ear to comfort them.
- Be a role model for self-care. – Parents are role models for their children in many ways. When they watch how you approach strong feelings such as anxiety, depression, or grief, they are more likely to approach their own feelings that way. Model appropriate self-care for both yourself and your loved one.
- Reach out to a professional if you recognize any warning signs above. – This step can be one of the most challenging but one of the most important. By reaching out for help, you and your child are demonstrating a unique strength. You are recognizing the importance of helping them feel better and emphasizing the importance of asking for help when you are not sure how to work on something.
All of us at the Portsmouth Neuropsychology Center are here to support you and your children during this tumultuous time.