Friends, we all want to hear good news. Trust me, I do, too. I am a feel-good-story junkie. Yet, as much as I crave the silver lining, I also know it’s time to sober up.
We, as a nation, have got to get serious about caring for one another. No, not by social distancing and wearing masks. That's the problem. Isolation is not helpful. It leads to loneliness, lack of motivation, sadness and depression.
It’s time to wake up, America. That means doing more to care for those who are at risk—not just at risk for disease—but for depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress. Your elderly neighbor who has been completely cut off from social contact, the family member who has a history of mental or emotional distress, and children (young and old) whose worlds have been turned upside down.
During this pandemic, there has been little to no discussion about the mental health of our children. And as a counselor, that concerns me. Just because kids are not typically suffering from the Coronavirus itself, does not mean they are not suffering.
Think back to Katrina. Kids who experienced that massive storm (and its aftermath), later showed rates of PTSD that rivaled the intensity of war veterans. And this pandemic is no different. The fear, the anxiety, the isolation and the upheaval of “life as we knew it” will have devastating effects for years to come.
So what can we do? First, we must pay attention. Does your child, teen or young adult exhibit signs of distress? When your child experiences traumatic stress, he or she may act in an uncharacteristic way (not typical for him or her).
These reactions may continue for days, weeks, or months after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. The response could even emerge weeks or months after the event took place. Remember these are normal reactions to your child experiencing an overwhelming life experience. The signs and symptoms of traumatic stress look different in each child and at different ages. Here is a helpful diagram from the National Child Traumatic Stress Network to help y’all understand traumatic stress symptoms by age.
Second, we must respond. None of us were prepared for a pandemic of this proportion, so we as parents had no way of preventing it from affecting our families. All current reports indicate that the worst is yet to come. So, our job is to minimize the negative effects of social isolation, fear and stress on our children.
For young children, the most important thing we can do is provide reassurance. As much as possible, maintain regular family routines and avoid their exposure to news and social media. Parents of little ones should encourage expression through play, reenactment and story-telling. Kids need to share their feelings, and they are most likely to do so during play. As for nighttime, it's okay to allow short-term changes in sleep arrangements. Before bed, be sure to plan calming, comforting activities to allow time to relax and unwind.
For older children and teens, patience and continuity are key. Keep your family’s schedule consistent when it comes to bedtimes, meals, and exercise.
Take time to do things at home that have made you and your family feel better in other stressful situations (i.e., reading, watching movies, listening to music, playing games, exercising, or engaging in religious activities (prayer, reading Scripture, participating in services on the Internet). Have children participate in distance learning opportunities that may be offered by their schools or other institutions/organizations.
Recognize that feelings such as loneliness, boredom, fear of contracting disease, anxiety, stress, and panic are normal reactions to a stressful situation such as a disease outbreak. Help your family engage in fun and meaningful activities consistent with your family and cultural values.
This is a difficult season for all of us. If you or a loved one is having a difficult time coping and need outside help, here are some options:
Contact us for a free consultation or to schedule a counseling session through this site or call us at 601-255-7200. Our professional services are offered offered by phone and through face-to-face meetings and video conferencing.
You may also get support by speaking to a counselor at SAMHSA Disaster Distress Helpline at 1-800-985-5990 or by texting TalkWithUS 66746.
Contact your physician or your insurance company (if they have a consultation line) to ask health-related questions or to seek mental health support.