Children’s mental health takes a significant hit through the pandemic
Children’s mental health continues to deteriorate as the pandemic drags on, but what can parents do to help them through these dark times?
In a report released on Oct. 20, 2020, Statistics Canada reported that youth mental health was the most affected through the pandemic. The report showed that before the COVID-19 pandemic, youth 15-24 were the least likely to report excellent mental health. However, through the pandemic, 60 per cent of youth that did note excellent to very good mental health dropped to 40 per cent.
No one knows this better than a local mom who we will call Sara Smith (not her real name) to protect her child’s anonymity. Smith says this last year was challenging for the mental health of all her children with a much heavier effect on her son, who is currently in middle school. Smiths’ son, who was on online learning during the 2020/2021 school year, didn’t do so well in this setting. “He didn’t leave his bed for like two months. I think not having those social supports during last winter was difficult for kids,” Smith said.
Smith, whose son began using drugs and eventually self-harming, immediately sought help for him with the help of resources that the school was offering. Smith says that the resources were very helpful in stopping the self-harm but the waiting period to seek help for other issues such as ADHD, which Smith’s son is waiting for, is incredibly long, which can keep children needing help in limbo.
Certified child psychologist Douglas Nechio has also seen significant changes in children’s mental health through the pandemic. “I think the level of anxiety and anxiousness just skyrocketed all across, but kids definitely were more vulnerable since the beginning because there was more uncertainty,” Nechio says.
Parents have also played a part in this because when an adult’s mental health is affected, it trickles down to the children in their care. Nechio says it’s important to remember that parents must take care of themselves as well in order to better care for their children.
“We cannot pour from an empty cup, it may be jargon, but it makes too much sense, not to mention. If parents are not well, their kid’s levels of anxiety will heighten as a function of exposure to that stress,” says Nechio.
As we return to a more normal way of life, Nechio says he thinks we will see a reduction in anxiety due to isolation. However, he still expects to see lingering increased anxiety for some children who may have concerns about being in social situations.
In terms of what parents need to pay attention to, Nechio says it is ok for children to worry and ask questions within the context of the times we are enduring. Still, if the worrying is constant, they are sad a lot or are suddenly having a hard time focusing, it may be time to get their mental health evaluated.
Another thing Nechio says can indicate a problem is healthy habits. “If the child starts to eat unhealthily or becomes sleep deprived, then there might be another sign that this child is worried about what’s going to happen and is having difficulties taking care of things that are so critical to us,” he says.
In the meantime, there are ways to help children through these challenging times. Nechio encourages consistent routine with access to monitored virtual social gatherings and chances to connect with their peers. As well as speaking to our children about their feelings to help process their emotions, being a good role model and leading by example. Then there is the option of reaching out to available resources.
In terms of those resources, there are a variety of ways to go. If parents have benefits, seeking private services might be the way to go, offering a quicker turnaround. However, if this is not an option, families can turn to schools or Alberta Health Services resources, though those may take substantially longer to be seen.
The Edmonton Public School Board (EPSB), in an email statement, outlined a list of resources such as occupational therapists, school family liaisons, psychologists and mental health consultants, to name a few. They further provided a list of organizations and links that you can find in the table below for ease of use.
Although with the pandemic in its fourth wave, it is hard to predict what may happen or how deeply it will affect children in the long term, Nechio says it is always important to take our kid’s concerns seriously and seek help when needed. Smith, whose son is doing better, couldn’t agree more but says that for families to continue seeking help keeping those resources going must also be a top priority.