You are not alone. Know the signs and symptoms and be proactive.
A study published through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in November 2020 reported that from April 2020 to October 2020, pediatric emergency department visits saw a staggering increase with mental health-related visits for children ages 5 to 11 and 12 to 17 years, increasing approximately 24% and 31% respectively from the previous year. There was also a more than 50% increase in suspected suicide attempts in girls between 12 and 17 years old compared to 2019i.
The pandemic is clearly affecting our children, and there are key changes you can watch for before they reach a crisis point. What are tell-tale signs that a child is struggling to navigate their world? Here is a list of signs and symptoms that your child needs professional help:
- Sleep or sleep routine struggles, such as waking up in the middle of the night.
- Increased sensitivity, crying without apparent reason.
- Aggressive behavior such as hitting, biting or sudden mood changes.
- More frequent tantrums.
- Separation anxiety.
- Changes in appetite.
- Lack of interest in activities they previously enjoyed.
- Less interest in schoolwork and drop in academic effort.
- Reverting at any age, acting immature or childish.
Once you’ve recognized a warning sign, be proactive. What can you do?
- Be an observer. If you see uncharacteristic behavior in a child you have a relationship with, be open and understanding. Offer help, resources and a listening ear in a supportive way. Try connecting rather than judging or lecturing.
- Ask questions. Whether or not you see behaviors, ask children how they are doing. Be specific in your asks, and don't make them answer alone. When you answer the same questions about yourself, it helps establish a conversation, not an interrogation.
- Encourage social media and phone-free hours in your household. Social media offers a never-ending supply of anxiety-inducing, jealousy-spurring content that is detrimental to young minds. Encourage a daily turn-off, and work on meaningful connections during that time.
- Encourage or schedule face-to-face play or hang-outs with other children their age if it is safe to do so in your area. Social interactions with peers are vital to help children develop social and emotional skills, like problem-solving, critical thinking, communication, sharing and teamwork.
No matter our age, most of us will have experienced hopelessness, anxiety and stress during the pandemic. If these feelings become overwhelming or prevent your child’s ability to keep doing what they usually enjoy, seek professional help.
The pandemic has changed our world in ways we could not have foreseen, at a pace we never imagined. This Mental Health Awareness Month, let’s make sure we don’t overlook the creative, bright and innocent children in our lives, who have faced virtual learning and canceled rights of passage. Yes, children are strong and resilient — but they need support, too, just as much as anybody.
i. Leeb RT, Bitsko RH, Radhakrishnan L, Martinez P, Njai R, Holland KM. Mental Health-Related Emergency Department Visits Among Children Aged <18 Years During the COVID-19 Pandemic – United States, January 1-October 17, 2020. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2020;69:1675-1680. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.mm6945a3