Checking in on children’s mental health as pandemic continues

We hear advice from professionals
Mental illness at all-time highs among children as COVID pandemic continues
Published: Jan. 27, 2022 at 5:28 AM CST|Updated: Jan. 27, 2022 at 7:10 AM CST
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EVANSVILLE, Ind. (WFIE) - As the United States continues into two full years of the Coronavirus pandemic, mental illness and the demand for psychological services are at all-time highs, ­especially among children.

That coming from the American Psychological Association.

Many changes have been made during the pandemic, including the ways children learn, communicate with their friends and even see their family.

Those situations could be huge changes for them, even if they don’t directly talk to you about it.

Mental health crises are also on the rise. From March 2020 to October 2020, mental health-related emergency department visits increased 24% for children ages 5 to 11 and 31% for those ages 12 to 17.

That’s compared with 2019 emergency department visits, according to CDC data.

Over two years into this pandemic, we spoke with a clinical social worker and mental health therapist.

He tells us the first major challenge he’s seen among children is the lack of continuity with schooling.

“From what I’ve seen it’s causing adjustment issues,” said Bradley DeHart, clinical social worker and mental health therapist. “It’s causing withdrawal, irritability, on top of that, not every child has access to technology, to internet. We’re in rural Kentucky and rural Southern Indiana. So internet is not always something they have access to. Even pre-covid, there’s children that, even if they did have access, they couldn’t afford it and hey, still can’t.”

Mental illness at all-time highs among children as COVID pandemic continues - Pt II

He says many major life events have been missed or canceled because of the pandemic, and those cancellations may have affected young adults a bit more than we know.

DeHart says you have to think about graduations and proms - big events for children and teens.

He says you also have to think about events missed on the family side like Christmas and even funerals.

There may have been a funeral where a child or young adult wasn’t able to attend to say goodbye and have closure.

DeHart says some things families can do with their children is to talk to them about it.

It seems simple but he says to ask those open-ended questions, letting your child give you some more detail on how they’re feeling or what’s going on.

He says that can help even you to figure out how to bring some more consistency to their world.

“I always tell people, normal is not the same thing as healthy,” DeHart says. “Normal is what is consistent in your life and what is consistent is not always healthy. You may have grown up in a household where there was drugs or abuse and that’s not healthy, but it is normal for you. Normal is consistency and we have to find a healthy consistency.”

Mental illness at all-time highs among children as COVID pandemic continues - Pt III

Some of those everyday anxieties can even include just talking to your friends again at school.

We all know by now there are differences in opinions when it comes to the COVID-19 vaccine and sometimes that conversation can come up at school or just around friends.

Bradley DeHart tells us it comes down to just teaching your kids to respect differences. That applies to masks and vaccinations.

DeHart says to make sure your kids know it’s OK to agree to disagree. Everyone is allowed their own opinion and it doesn’t have to go any further than that.

He says for any caregiver, it’s important to be mindful of the communication that you’re modeling for your kids.

”Younger children especially are like sponges,” DeHart says. “They’re watching everything you’re doing and what you’re saying and how you’re acting. And that goes down to how they’re feeling and that can have a mental health impact on children and teens in the family. So just be very mindful, it may be a phone conversation that you’re having with another family member. Your child is listening whether you realize it or not. They’re absorbing it.”

Dehart says social media plays a role in that as well.

Be mindful that your children or family members can see everything you’re posting, which can transcend back into the schools and cause those difficult conversations between friends and peers.

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