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COVID-19 taking a toll on children’s mental health

COVID-19 taking a toll on children’s mental health

Jack was an outgoing, active youngster. The 10 year old enjoyed school, particularly history class. He excelled in swimming and soccer. Out of the pool and off the field, he was biking or gaming with friends. When COVID-19 changed his in-person world to virtual reality, at first it was a novelty. He wasn’t in danger of being late for the bus, and he thought it was cool to “walk to school” in the family room. As the months passed, Jack grew weary of the monotony and isolation, of sitting in front of the computer for hours on end. He missed spending time with his friends in person. His grades started to slide, along with his motivation. He became irritable and lethargic. Despite her best efforts to help him, his mom recognized that Jack would benefit from professional counseling.

“So many young people’s mental, social, and emotional well-being has been impacted by COVID-19,” says Lauren Roden, LCSW, a therapist at LiveWell Counseling. “It is vitally important to care for their mental-health needs at this vulnerable time in their lives.”

Many challenges presented by COVID for children mirror those encountered by adults.

  • Social distancing has created barriers to interactions with friends and family. Young children, especially, are often confused and disappointed that they can’t embrace their grandparents or aunts and uncles who are not part of their “pod.”
  • Routines have been disrupted. For the majority of children, the normal aspects of school – walking to the bus stop or to school, catching up with friends before class or during lunch, in-person interactive learning in the classroom – are on pause indefinitely. Although some districts offer a hybrid model, the setup is far from normal.
  • Celebrations of holidays and milestones have been altered. Children are saddened and may even grieve the loss of traditional gatherings. A houseful of family and friends has been replaced with condensed images of loved ones on a computer screen.

Age often determines how a youngster responds mentally and emotionally to these challenges. A very young child may be clingy, have difficulty sleeping, or become tearful. School-age children may be irritable or complain of physical ailments like a headache or stomach ache. They, too, may have difficulty sleeping. Adolescents are more likely to become lethargic, moody, and withdraw socially from the family, in addition to displaying similar behaviors as school-age children.

Children who have a pre-existing mental disorder have a greater risk of being affected emotionally and mentally by COVID.

“They are more vulnerable to anxiety and depression,” Ms. Roden says.

The good news is that virtual outpatient telehealth is available during the pandemic to provide effective treatment for all children and adolescents, including those affected by COVID.

“Parents should reach out for professional help for their child when they notice a prolonged lack of normal functioning,” Ms. Roden says. “Bear in mind that not all children are affected by COVID, but we are here to help those that will benefit from professional therapy.”

Each year, LiveWell Counseling treats hundreds of children and adolescents. Individualized treatment is provided by a team of psychiatrists and therapists, and can include therapy, medications, or combination of both. Therapy options include psychotherapy, which involves youngsters working with mental-health professionals on their thoughts, feelings, and behavior; cognitive behavioral therapy, which helps turn negative behaviors into positive ones; and family therapy. When symptoms warrant or when therapy alone isn’t effective, medication may be necessary.

Length of treatment is based upon the youngster, his/her specific disorder, and progress. The CHCCC staff is uniquely positioned to incorporate faith into treatment, when requested. Some children respond to short-term treatment, while others may need a more long-term program. In all cases, the earlier the treatment, the better the outcome.

“Children are immensely resilient,” Ms. Roden says. “They’re a population that tends to have very good outcomes.”