Mental Health and Supporting Children and Adolescents Since the Coronavirus Pandemic
The sudden impact of the Coronavirus pandemic has changed all of our lives in various ways. The challenge of lockdown has resulted in social isolation, social distancing due to fear of infection, reduced family support and constant unpredictability. The impact on mental health has been extremely serious and far reaching. One survey by the UK mental health charity, Mind, on almost 14500 people aged 25 and over; showed 76% had admitted to having experienced challenges with their mental health. More than half had reported experiencing symptoms of anxiety and/ or depression, since the start of the Coronavirus pandemic. A paper in The Lancet Psychiatry journal, How mental health care should change as a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic, discusses how social and economic changes can also lead to an increase in the prevalence of mental health disorders.
‘Preliminary findings suggest adverse mental health effects in previously healthy people and especially in people with pre-existing mental health disorders.’
Mental health in children and adolecents
Parents and guardians have the added weight of supporting their children and ensuring that mental health issues are not overlooked. Children and adolecents have had to cope with changes that have limited their contact with friends and family members. The stress of schools closing and the changes in their daily routines have been recognised as triggers for anxiety, especially in younger children. Older children will be more impacted by the news they get from social media which can ignite fear and consequently anxiety over the fear of family or friends getting ill and dying. For children who directly experience the death of someone they knew, additional mental health issues can occur. Limited or no contact prior to death and the social distancing rules at funerals disrupt the grieving process which could result in post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression and suicide.
The disruption to everyday life due to the Coronavirus lockdown changed the lives of younger people instantly. Combined with the social distancing regulations and restricted contact with relatives and friends it is vital to recognise that the stress and anxiety experienced by younger people, could have long term consequences.
One study, found 53.8% of people from 194 cities in China, rated the psychological impact of the outbreak as either moderate or severe. In another survey by Mind, on almost 2000 people aged between 13 and 24; 69% admitted to having personal experiences with mental health issues.
Supporting mental health challenges in children and adolecents
Every parent and guardian wants to provide appropriate levels of mental health support, to help their children to navigate their emotions, since the start of the Coronavirus pandemic. This is a particular concern with lockdown restrictions eased and schools and colleges opening again. Feeling a certain amount of anxiety is perfectly normal, but how should you help children and, or adolecents who are experiencing moderate or severe anxiety?
Talking with Children about Coronavirus
Children aged under 11
Spend some time every evening with children under 11, read a story and ask them how they are feeling. Explain what the Coronavirus is and how it spreads in simple language. Tell them why wearing a mask, washing your hands and staying 2 metres apart from others where possible, will help to keep other people safe, including Grandparents or vulnerable adults and children.
Children between 11 and 14
Ask them what the know about the Coronavirus and why it spreads. Ensure they understand why they need to wear a mask, wash their hands and try to keep 2 metres apart from other people. Ask them what worries them most about returning to school or college. Do not tell them they shouldn’t worry, showing you accept and validate their concerns will help children and teenagers to open up more.
Take time to do an activity together, ask for help when cooking, something as simple as chopping up vegetables or whisking some eggs. Try to get out in the garden, paint the shed together or a garden bench or create something, such as a rockery or pond. Research has been shown, that older children and teenagers are more likely to talk about things they are worried about, when they are doing an activity.
Supporting Children with Anxiety about School or College
Anxiety can be frightening, children sometimes will be unsure of why they feel anxious, explain that anxiety is a chemical reaction and everyone experiences anxiety. Let them know its nothing to hide and encourage them to tell you if they feel anxious. Practice breathing slowly with your child. Breathe deeply in through the nose counting to 3 and then out through the mouth counting to 3, repeat this 3 times.
Explain that research has shown that children who have already returned to school in other countries have not recorded higher infection rates and neither have the teachers or their parents. Make sure your child has hand sanitiser and a mask, and go over any new rules the school has implemented. One way to keep younger children interested is to make a quiz with the rules, with prices for correct answers to keep younger children interested.
Tell your child what would happen if you did catch the Coronavirus, explain who would help and talk about who would take care of them if you needed to go to hospital. Encourage your child to write down what they are worried about. The action of writing down what is causing anxiety can help a child to feel more in control. This also applies to drawing, which can be easier for children with learning difficulties. Give them a quality notepad for this sole purpose and ask them to look after it. This shows you take their worries seriously and makes it something ‘special’ that’s worth the effort of writing in, especially if you have older children.
Do not feel guilty if your child is anxious or having difficulty adjusting, this is no reflection on your parenting. Most importantly don’t neglect your own mental health, if you or your children are struggling, seek help if you need it from your GP or social services.