Children, teens and families have been navigating a lot during the pandemic. Sometimes it can be hard to tell whether day-to-day stress is getting the best of us or if something more serious may be going on.
Dr. Sarah Jerstad, a child psychologist at Children’s Minnesota, is talking about the importance of taking care of our mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month (May).
How has the pandemic affected kids’ mental health?
More than two years after the COVID-19 pandemic started, people are wondering: What is the research showing about the mental health of kids and teens?
The answer is, recent data does show that the pandemic has had a big impact on the mental health of kids. “Surveys of kids and parents done in last couple of years have shown increases in anxiety and depression,” says Dr. Jerstad. “There were self-reported surveys, so either kids reported feeling more anxiety, or parents noticing their child seemed to have more anxiety or depression.”
Which makes sense, Dr. Jerstad explains. “Everyone has had a big amount of change and unpredictability since COVID-19 began. Therefore, if a child was already at a higher risk of anxiety or depression, the pandemic might have made it worse.”
Is the stigma around mental health preventing some families from seeking out help?
It’s encouraging that more people are talking about mental health more openly. But, the stigma still exists. “If a child has a mental health issue, some parents might ask if they did something wrong?” said Dr. Jerstad.
But mental health is complex and complicated. “When you take your kid to the doctor for a broken bone or virus, there’s a quick diagnosis and solution,” said Dr. Jerstad. “But mental health is chronic, there are ups and downs.”
As a parent, getting help is the biggest step in the journey because you are acknowledging your child’s problem.
Is it stress or something more serious?
As a parent, how can you know if your child is experiencing stress or something more serious that may be going on?
Dr. Jerstad says, “Consider your child’s stage of development. If a child is transitioning from elementary to middle school, or middle school to high school – expect it to be challenging and stressful.”
The sign that it may be a mental health issue is when you notice differences in their everyday life. Ask yourself, are they:
- Isolating themselves?
- Pulling away from friends?
- Losing interest in hobbies or sports?
If they are, that’s when it might be something more significant.
Is the access to mental health care improving?
Many people are wondering, is the access to mental health care improving, especially for kids? Dr. Jerstad responds with, “The whole mental health community recognizes there’s a great need and we are doing everything we can do help the kids who need it.”
But, if you’re concerned about your child’s mental health, a good starting place is your primary care provider or your school counselor, they can provide a connection bridge or resource.