May 7th is National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day, and in 2021 we need it more than ever. Predictability has always been a stabilizing force for children and adolescents, but the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted our ability to provide that. Now, research is slowly emerging on the effects of recent social isolation on our youth – and it’s not great news.
Home confinement of children and adolescents is being associated with uncertainty and anxiety as a direct consequence of disruptions in education, physical activities and socialization opportunities. In one study, researchers found that younger children (3-6 years old) were more likely to manifest symptoms of clinginess and fear of family members being infected than older children. Older adolescents and youth experienced anxiety about Zoom learning, cancellation of school sports and graduations, as well as lack of social contact with peers and extended family. New research shows that these issues have increased disturbed sleep, nightmares, poor appetite, agitation, inattention, and separation related anxiety. Prolonged confinement at home has also increased the use of internet and social media by youth, predisposing them to internet compulsion and vulnerability for being bullied or abused.
Youth living in unstable families have experienced the worst pandemic distress. COVID-19 has exacerbated poverty, interpersonal violence, and family chaos, with mandated reporting of abuse being greatly reduced by school, youth group, and church closures. The number one request of youth currently participating in L.A. CADA youth services is help for family violence.
What can be done? First, know that adults set the tone in the household. Expressing doom or fear affects children. While it can be challenging to stay positive (especially if you’re struggling with your own stress), do it – and relay consistent messages that a brighter future lies ahead.
Next, incorporate exercise in the family routine. Physical activity as simple as walking or as vigorous as pumping iron can put the brakes on mild to moderate depression.
And don’t let your child’s depression or anxiety snowball. Seek professional help at the first signs of distress. L.A. CADA can help. Call our Youth and Family Services department at (562) 348-0083
Learn how to help youth as the pandemic winds down