The coronavirus pandemic has been an unexpected experience for people all over the world, especially children and teenagers. The constant and immediate changes in daily life have been difficult and have had negative effects on mental health for people of all ages.
Burrell Behavioral Health saw a significant increase in the demand for youth mental health services after the onset of the pandemic. As children and teens return to more pre-pandemic activities that demand continues to rise.
"We are all going through stress day in and day out and unfortunately, our kids have suffered a lot in the last year,” said Dr. Garima Singh, Chief Medical Officer for Burrell Behavioral Health.
Dr. Singh, a child and adolescent psychiatrist, said she and other providers saw more mental health disorders, sleep problems and behavioral issues in young people during the pandemic. She said most students felt fear when schools– which are normally a stable part of students’ lives—went virtual. Children and teens tried to learn from home, but many fell behind in their work. As classrooms began to reopen in the fall, students who were already struggling to adjust might have experienced additional anxiety. That led to more behavioral outbursts as they dealt with the demands of returning to increased structure.
This summer comes with a new sense of hope. COVID-19 guidelines are being lifted and vaccines are now available for many youth.
Dr. Singh, who is a parent as well as a provider, said this season can help children and teens recover from reeling and regain their resiliency.
"Kids are trying to find the normalcy now,” Dr. Singh said. “This might be our best time to prepare them."
She explained four simple steps to make your child’s summer as stable as possible, no matter what stage they’re in.
Start with structure
Whether they’re five or fifteen, Dr. Singh recommends a routine. Set expectations for each week, including chores, meal times, activities and family outings.
Try to work exercise into that schedule. Studies show improved self-esteem can come from being active, as physical movement can release endorphins to our brains.
Quality over quantity
When it comes to time, Dr. Singh said, it’s more about how you spend it, rather than how much you get.
Family dinners can be a time to find out what happened that day and what a child might be feeling.
It might also be a good idea to limit screen time this summer. Students may have spent countless hours using a device for virtual learning, so more face-to-face connection could benefit them.
Inform and educate
Children and teens want to know what is happening in the world and how it will affect their lives.
"They’re getting information from all different sources and we have to make sure they have the correct information,” Singh said.
Depending on their age, try to help young people understand the best-case scenarios for what’s next while preparing them for a back-up plan, not only with coronavirus concerns, but other aspects of life as well.
Ask for help
Parenting is not easy. It is normal to feel overwhelmed by the pressure of trying to do the right thing for our children, especially when recovering from a global pandemic. When a child is also struggling, the entire home can be engulfed in a cycle of stress.
It’s hard to know when to ask for professional help. Dr. Singh said if a parent is wondering if they should seek care, the answer is yes. Consider your child’s mood, sleep patterns, behaviors, family dynamic and academic success.
The staff at Burrell Behavioral Health have years of experience working successfully with children and adolescents. They can help families navigate issues adding to a stressful home life and develop practices that will support your child's success at school and in the community.
Services begin with screening for eligibility. Screenings can be scheduled by phone at 417-761-5000 in southwest Missouri, 573-777-8300 in central Missouri, or through one of our Connection Centers. To find a clinic near you, click here.
About Burrell Behavioral Health:
Burrell Behavioral Health is one of the largest community behavioral health providers in the nation, working with more than 40,000 clients in 18 counties in Missouri. Burrell has more than 400 licensed providers offering a full continuum of care through our integrated network. Services include individual therapy and counseling, addiction recovery, psychiatric and medication management, educational and therapeutic groups, crisis intervention, medication-assisted treatment, adult stabilization, case management, residential treatment, autism, diagnostic testing and evaluations and developmental disability support. Learn more about Burrell’s programs and services at www.burrellcenter.com.