When children learn remotely, they see their teachers, mentors and friends less often; and spend more time on their personal electronic devices.
Scott Kennelly, director of the Butte County Department of Behavioral Health, is urging parents to look out for early warning signs of depression and to connect more with their children.
“We don’t have teachers laying eyes on kids as much; we don’t have other people seeing some of the behavior,” Kennelly said. “Check in with your kids, see how their day is doing on a regular basis. Ask them open-ended questions and show that you care.”
According to a health advisory published in early December by the U.S. Surgeon General, since the pandemic began, more young people are experiencing psychological distress including anxiety and depression. Among the several reasons for this, remote learning and social platforms are contributing factors.
“School has historically been a primary source of socialization for kids and a place they can learn academically and engage in extracurricular activities and sports,” Kennelly said. “A lot of that has been significantly disrupted by the pandemic.”
Kennelly said teachers are the primary source of referrals to the department, and can keep an eye on children who are showing behavioral changes or even signs of abuse.
“That’s not happening with fewer kids coming to school,” Kennelly said.
Social media platforms showing different standards of beauty or heavy materialism have also been contributing to low self esteem. Sometimes children have screen times of more than 10 hours.
“Just because your kids are home and online supposedly doing their schooling, and you’re at work all day, it doesn’t mean they’re necessarily doing well,” Kennelly said. “Pay attention to your kids, pay attention to behavioral changes.”
The health advisory, named “Protecting Youth Mental Health,” includes contributing illness risk factors including but not limited to having mental health challenges before the pandemic, being worried about COVID, having parents or caregivers who were frontline workers, and experiencing disruptions in routine such as not seeing friends or going to school.
The advisory also contains an extensive list of how individuals, businesses, or communities can take action to combat the effects of the pandemic. It includes advice for young people, family members, educators, journalists, media organizations, tech companies, funders and government.
To find out more about the advisory, what you or your organization can do, you can read the material at https://www.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/surgeon-general-youth-mental-health-advisory.pdf.
The Butte County Department of Behavioral Health is trying to combat this through prevention programs hosted at school that teach skills to children and adults to reduce mental health issues from developing. One program, “Strengthening Families,” connects families with conflict through individual and group therapy, and then a dinner.
“These families are just like ‘we just thought we had no hope, and after this series we’re talking and we’re not fighting anymore,’” Kennelly said.
Sometimes the negative effects of mental wellness in a family can come from a parent themselves who is not aware or accepting of their own mental health.
“It really is up to parents to not only check in on their kids but also be aware of how they’re doing; a lot of parents are struggling too and aren’t necessarily getting support.”
Prevention and treatment programs from Butte County Department of Behavioral Health can be found at https://www.buttecounty.net/behavioralhealth/.
“If you’re struggling, reach out to a friend, reach out to your parents. If you don’t feel like you can, reach out to your teacher,” Kennelly said. “Every school at least has a school guidance counselor.”
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‘This too shall pass away’ this famous Persian adage seems to be defeating us again and again in the case of COVID-19. Despite every effort