The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a rise in depression and anxiety in children and teenagers, mental health experts say. Suicide is already the second-leading cause of death of those ages 10-24 in South Carolina; the added stressor of the pandemic could pose another public health concern.
“There’s a fear [in kids] that I could get sick, that someone in my family could get sick,” says Chris Haines, director of school mental health programs at Greater Greenville Mental Health Center and therapist at West Greenville School. Children may also have had family members who have lost jobs and are feeling the emotional strain of the family.
Greenville County Schools’ director of psychological services, Melanie DeWitt, agrees. “In terms of financial insecurities, shelter insecurities, food insecurities, just the family structure is under so much more stress because of how unpredictable our world is right now.”
Children are having to deal with all of this stress along with the added stressor of isolation, both Haines and DeWitt say. The pandemic has meant these children can’t go to school normally to see friends or hang out like they used to. Being away from friends and adult support that many children and teenagers rely on to navigate any issues they have can lead to feelings of isolation.
That isolation, Haines says, has resulted in increased anxiety and depression in youth.
Parents concerned about their child’s safety and well-being can contact the school district or other agencies like Greater Greenville Mental Health for assistance.
Overall, it’s important to see how persistent children’s feelings are — there will always be some good and some bad days.
To help children cope with the pandemic, parents and guardians should remember to model positive behaviors even in these challenging times, says DeWitt. Reassuring them can be important. For mental health, it’s important to also try to keep a routine, she adds. She also suggests finding ways to decrease isolation, such as social-distanced playdates and Zoom meetings with friends.
Haines recommends parents speak with their children often about their feelings and emotions — and start doing so at an early age. These conversations should be a regular practice.
Examples like just asking, “What’s causing you stress?” or “What’s making you anxious?” can be very helpful and allow children to open up about how they are feeling, Haines says.
Don’t be afraid to discuss suicide. “If kids are not thinking about it, they’ll say ‘No, gosh, no.’ And if they are, they’ll often say ‘yes,’” Haines says.
And while it’s important to keep your children’s mental health a focus, Haines recommends that parents remember their own mental health, too.
“Being a parent is stressful. And being a parent during a pandemic … and dealing with your own finances might be the most stressful for some people,” says Haines. “I want parents to know that it is important to seek your own help and it’s important to get your own support, to make sure that how we impact our kids is not increasing anxiety and depression, and that how we interact with our kids offers an opportunity for connection.”
Tips on helping your children’s mental health during the pandemic:
- Make it a routine to ask them how they are feeling and if they are feeling anxious about anything specific
- Model positive behaviors in front of your child
- Try to keep routines in place
- Exercise, get enough sleep and eat healthily
- Take care of your own mental health