COVID-19 has negatively impacted the mental health of children and teens. Remote learning, lockdowns, social isolation, pandemic uncertainty, additional time online, increased social media use, and for many youths, being stuck at home with an abuser have all played a role in the increased anxiety and depression among kids and have heightened concerns about their mental health.
The social isolation and stress of the pandemic has taken a toll on the mental health of many Americans, but the impact has been especially severe on teenagers, who rely on their friends and social interactions to navigate the pressures of middle and high school life. (See our Safety Brief on “Social Isolation and Mental Health During the Covid-19 Pandemic”). Research shows that social interaction and certainty are stabilizing forces for youth, but the pandemic has disrupted those forces. According to child development studies, close friendship strength in children and teens helps increase self‐worth, decrease anxiety, and decrease depressive symptoms. In other words, youth depend on friendships to maintain a positive sense of self-esteem and mental well-being. (https://srcd.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/cdev.12905)
The effects of Covid-19 have also been reflected in the increase of adolescent mental health emergency/urgent visits. According to the CDC, between April and October 2020, hospital emergency departments saw an increase in the number of visits from youth for mental health needs. Health experts say public school closures have produced a mental health crisis among school-aged children.
SYMPTOMS OF A MENTAL HEALTH CRISIS
To effectively respond to a mental health crisis, we must first recognize the signs of such a crisis. The National Alliance on Mental Illness cautions parents, teachers, and other child advocates to look for warning signs, including severe risk-taking behavior, significant weight loss, and drastic changes in mood. According to healthychild.org, additional signs of mental distress include:
- Changes in mood that are not usual for your child, such as ongoing irritability, feelings of hopelessness or rage, and frequent conflicts with friends and family
- Changes in behavior, such as stepping back from personal relationships
- A loss of interest in activities previously enjoyed- Did your music-loving child suddenly stop wanting to practice guitar, for example? Did your aspiring chef lose all interest in cooking and baking?
- A hard time falling or staying asleep, or starting to sleep all the time
- Changes in weight or eating patterns, such as never being hungry or eating all the time
- Problems with memory, thinking, or concentration
- Less interest in schoolwork and drop in academic effort
- Changes in appearance, such as lack of basic personal hygiene
- An increase in risky or reckless behaviors, such as using drugs or alcohol
- Thoughts about death or suicide, or talking about it
COPING SKILLS & PREVENTION
Although additional research is needed to assess the long-term effects of COVID-19 on the overall mental health of youth, the best way to help combat mental health crises (that could potentially lead to mental disorders) is to provide support and help to kids now.
It’s important to keep lines of communication open between you and the kids in your life. Additionally, HOW you communicate with them is just as important. Some kids are comfortable with direct conversations, some may need more time and space to express their feelings, and others may need gradual conversations or activities besides talking, such as painting or drawing, to express themselves.
Practicing positive coping skills with your kids not only provides them with opportunities to openly communicate with you, but also helps them to manage their emotions in a healthy and constructive way. These skills ultimately build resilience within children, teaching them to better cope with emotional distress they could encounter.
Here are some examples of positive coping skills:
- Dance or listen to music
- Exercise, do yoga, or play sports
- Practice breathing exercises
- Spend time alone or with friends
- Watch a funny movie
- Play a video game
- Draw or write in a journal
- Clean or organize your room
- Read a book
- Create artwork or crafts
- Practice positive self-talk
- Use a Mood Map
MENTAL HEALTH MATTERS
Mental health is just as important as physical health, and MBF is dedicated to protecting kids both mentally and physically. Be sure to check in with the kids in your life. If you have a child or teen, work with children or teens, or are simply concerned about children, help them learn and understand the importance of good mental health. Ask them how they’re feeling or if they’ve experienced any emotional problems or mental health concerns, and encourage them to talk to you or another adult. If needed, seek help and support for them. Early intervention is vital!
MBF Mental Health Matters™ are supplemental lessons provided by the Monique Burr Foundation for Children (MBF) that focus on mental and emotional health and substance use and abuse. MBF Mental Health Matters is developmentally appropriate and trauma-informed, and addresses mental well-being, substance abuse, coping skills, refusal skills, and unhealthy and healthy choices.
Parents, we encourage you to reach out to your child’s school and make sure they are using MBF Prevention Education Programs along with MBF Mental Health Matters.
If you are an educator or child advocate using our programs in your school, we hope you will implement MBF Mental Health Matters lessons during the month of May (Mental Health Awareness Month) to educate and empower children and support their personal safety and mental well-being. If you aren’t using MBF Mental Health Matters or any MBF Programs and would like to learn more, visit www.mbfpreventioneducation.org/mbf-mental-health-matters/.