A Focus on Mental Health During the COVID-19 Pandemic

During these unprecedented times of change and uncertainty, we need to bring our discussions and awareness about the importance of mental health to the forefront. We have all been affected by a global pandemic, and our responses are as varied as our individual selves. As such, we will carry what is now happening with us in some way for the rest of our lives. Consider the impact that some brief, but influential, events have had on us. Think back to the Challenger explosion, or the events of 9/11. These events have forever been etched in our memories, along with all the feelings and emotional responses we had during those times. Then consider the impact this months-long, social-isolating, school-disrupting, life-changing, pandemic will have on our lives. These thoughts may seem overwhelming, but we can take action to make sure we all come out the other side with positivity and resilience.

Many of us have the necessary coping strategies in place to weather this storm without long-tern, 
significant, emotional distress.

 But there are some who do not have the capacity to display resilience without some assistance. Children are among those who depend on others for modeling and teaching self-awareness, self-regulation, sense of physical and psychological safety, self-care, interpersonal connectedness, hope, resilience, and positive outlook for the future. As adults, parents, educators, and community members, there is so much we can do to promote these crucial skills in our children and help other adults to weather this storm with resilience and strength. 

Worry and anxiety during this time is NORMAL. Model self-awareness of feelings in a way that is transparent to those around you. Acknowledge to children the difficulties we are facing, name the emotions we are feeling, and the strategies we are using to help cope with the difficulty. For example, “I am feeling so trapped inside our house. I’m not used to feeling like I can’t go anywhere I want. I am going t
o go for a short walk around the neighborhood. Would you like to join me?”

Physical and Psychological Safety
Follow guidelines and restrictions recommended by the experts and reassure children that they are physically safe. While we can’t guarantee that those around us won’t get sick, we can talk about the steps we are taking to stay as safe as possible (washing hands, using masks, avoiding physical closeness to others). Allow children and adults time to talk about their concerns and reinforce that they can talk about their emotions surrounding this crisis at any time without fear of judgement. There is no right or wrong way to feel in the midst of a global pandemic. Reassure children that there are responsible, knowledgeable adults who will help us ensure we are remaining safe during this time.

Interpersonal Connectedness
Humans are neurologically hard-wired to be social creatures. Even those of us who need a lot of time alone are feeling the impact of social distancing. Find new ways to connect with people you enjoy spending time with and help children do the same. There are so many creative ways to connect through technology and social media, but don’t discount the benefits of getting outside for some exercise and waving to others in the neighborhood from a safe distance.

Practice and model self-care for children and encourage adults to engage in self-care as well. Some ideas for this include: exercise, taking breaks in nature, engaging in creative tasks, re-reading a familiar book or re-watching a favorite movie or show, talking with friends and family, learning to cook a new meal, exploring mindfulness or deep breathing practices, listening to music, or taking a hot s
hower or a warm bath. In addition, it is important to minimize television, internet, and social media viewing for adults and children. Stay up to date, but keep in mind that watching continual updates on COVID-19 may increase distress and anxiety. Remember to allow yourself and others the grace and the lack of judgment to have ups and downs, and to do the things we need to do to take care of ourselves during this peculiar and unparalleled time. 

Always remember to talk about hope for the future and remind children and adults that they have been successful with difficult situations before. It may be helpful to talk to older family members who have experienced something difficult and overcome it. 

The chart shows common reactions to stress adults and children can have during this time. You may experience serious distress when you hear about a disease outbreak, even if you are at little or no risk of getting sick. If you or someone you know shows signs of stress (see chart) for several days or weeks, ask for help. Contact your primary care physician, your child’s pediatrician, or call SAMHSA’s free 24-hour Disaster Distress Helpline at 1-800-985-5990 if you feel lonely, need support, or if stress feels unmanageable.

Throughout this time, we will be persistent and keep a mindful eye toward mental health and an intentional practice of monitoring our reactions to this stressful event. We will be resilient and we will take care of ourselves and others. We will ride out this wave and maintain hope for tomorrow.

Sarah Graman, EdS, Nationally Certified Schools Psychologist
Covington Independent Public Schools

Additional Resources:
National Association of School Psychologists “Helping Children Cope with Changes Resulting from COVID-19”

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration “Coping with Stress During and Infectious Disease Outbreak”

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