The one-year mark of the pandemic in our country (1/9/2021) has been met with rising ER visits and long waits for many children who are part of a dangerously increasing group of kids in mental health crisis.
Though everyone’s life has been clearly affected during the COVID-19 pandemic, children’s lives are even more at risk. Kids need consistency and structure in their days to develop properly but things seem to change daily and put their wellbeing in jeopardy. Kids are highly impressionable. They tend to struggle to understand and navigate through challenging times such as these which is why we are now observing an increasing number of kids in mental health crisis.
What kinds of concerning behavior are mental health professionals observing in children?
Therapists in our community who specialize in working with children say they are seeing a specific set of concerning behaviors from adjustment issues and depression to self-harm and suicidal thought. The more common struggles are with:
- virtual learning
- social interaction
- shutting down
- depressed mood
- physical activity, as well as
- a breakdown in their homes’ structure and routine.Regretfully, we are also learning about an increase in substance abuse among teens.
What can parents do to help their children, especially as we all continue to experience pandemic fatigue?
It is vital that we, as adults and parents, do our best at:
- implementing daily routines and structure that focus on our own and our children’s physical needs of sleeping, eating, and activity, as well as our emotional needs for play and interaction;
- limiting our activities with electronic toys and social media because these activities enable our children to isolate even more, which is a breeding ground for negatively impacting sleep as well as increasing anxiety and depressive symptoms;
- finding creative ways to provide our children and teens outdoor playdates so that they continue learning those necessary social skills;
- adding a family meeting to your weekly schedule so that intentional time is taken to share about each member’s emotional and mental well-being;
- deciding as a family what is comfortable and meaningful for each of you then planning how to bring that into your family’s life; and, most importantly;
- keeping in mind that our natural need for connection is different for each person and each age group, so be as flexible as possible when planning social activities for your children and teenagers.
How would a parent know when to seek professional help for their children?
We have clear signs that require emergency care, like if they are not talking at all, seem gloomy most of the time, or maybe when parents have seen their child or teen’s eating habits drastically shift. At these points, we encourage parents to call their child’s pediatrician and request an appointment within 24 hours or to go to their nearest urgent care or emergency room.
However, if parents have implemented routine and structure successfully and their child or teen’s behaviors has not changed within a week or two, it is best to contact a mental health therapist who specializes in play therapy and working with children. Therapists will bring in interventions like mindfulness, emotional regulation, and distress tolerance skill-building to address the problem. Therapists can also help determine if psychiatric medications are needed.
Want to know more about kids in mental health crisis?
Watch this video of Susan Harrington, counselor and founder of Maison Vie New Orleans, discussing tips and advice for parents and adults who may be worried about the children in their lives. You can also contact us to see how we can help guide you and/or your child with personal counseling sessions or play therapy.