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COVID-19 Surge Impacts Schools in Central Minnesota Including Students’ Mental Health

Published in Behavioral Health Services, Pediatrics, For the Health of It Author: Lori Listug-Lunde,PhD

With the current surge of COVID-19 cases in our area, many schools are being faced with distance learning once again. This impacts education and the mental health of students, teachers and our communities.

We are all experiencing an increase in stress. We have new demands placed on us and are having to learn new ways of connecting with each other. Most people also are feeling more isolated, as we are unable to gather with our friends and families in typical ways.

This now feels more like a marathon — rather than a sprint. At first, we thought “I can do this for a while” and Zoom meetings were a new challenge. But now, we are fatiguing. This isn’t so interesting and it’s just plain hard.

Emotional and behavioral responses to the COVID-19 pandemic may look very different in children and adolescents compared to adults. In addition, we all have our unique ways of coping with stress, seeking support and responding to challenges. Some strategies are healthy (calling a friend, taking a walk in the fresh air, remembering what we are grateful for) and others may not be so good for us (binge watching Netflix, using substances, withdrawing from others).

With that said, balance is important. Netflix may be a nice escape and a chance to unwind, but too much may lead to trouble like not getting homework completed or missing out on something important. Here are some warning signs of stress to look for in children in adolescents according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Some warning signs of stress to look for:

  • Infants and young children: Disruptions in sleep, toileting and feeding; difficulty with separation; and losing skills that they had previously learned.
  • Older children and adolescents: Withdrawal, fearfulness, and overt anxiety; increased irritability, aggression and unexplained aches and pains.
  • Adolescents and young adults: Distress shared through words or behaviors (poor sleep, decreased appetite, low energy); hiding concerns due to shame or worry of burdening others.

For most children and teens, support from caring adults will help manage this stress. But if your child is having trouble functioning, sleeping, eating, concentrating or regulating their mood — further support may be needed. Stress can look very different from child to child. For example, kids who usually adapt easily to change might have no problem adjusting to distance learning and new routines. On the other hand, children and adolescents who have a history of anxiety or depression are at greater risk for those conditions to be exacerbated during these difficult times.

In addition to stresses on mental health, this pandemic may be disrupting your child’s future plans. Back in the spring, the interruption may have seemed temporary and therefore more manageable. Now, many youth are dealing with consequences of the pandemic that are changing their plans and expectations for the future. This can be quite unsettling — no matter your age.

What caregivers can do:

  • Have open and honest conversations with your kids. Avoiding difficult topics does not protect children, but may lead them to find false information from friends and on social media.
  • Recognize and validate your child’s feelings. Take time to listen. Make sure that they feel heard and understood. You can help normalize what they are going through and let them know that you are there to help them.
  • Model how to manage feelings. You are their greatest teacher. Talk about what you are doing to stay healthy, how you stay calm, and deal with stress.
  • Keep healthy routines. Routines keep us grounded. Try to stick to a set bedtime and create routines around morning, meals and bedtime.
  • Connect with loved ones. Find time to stay connected to those you love and encourage kids to have some form of safe interaction with their friends.
  • Promote resilience. Parents can support kids by being present, empathic and nurturing. Living together in the moment can help the entire family develop coping skills. Encourage compassion for others and for yourself. Strive to be forgiving and see mistakes as chances to learn and grow.

Mental health resources for families:

CentraCare is offering mental health video visits amid our COVID-19 response. Children and adults can talk to a behavioral health provider about the challenges they are facing. Video visits are available to new and established patients and no referral is needed. Same day or next day appointments are possible, call 320-255-6677 to schedule. Learn more.

You also can find many mental health resources online:

Information for this article was provided in part by information from the American Academy of Pediatrics.