Expert Advice: How To Protect Your Child’s Mental Health During Covid-19
As we face the unprecedented global impact of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), taking care of yourself and your family is the first step towards good health and being able to get through these uncertain times. The COVID-19 outbreak not only causes physical symptoms, but it can also threaten emotional and mental health—regardless of whether one has been infected with the virus.
With disruptions to normal life, lost income, social isolation, and fear for your safety and that of your loved ones, feelings of anger, worry, frustration, or loss are natural for both adults and kids alike. But it’s essential to manage stress and anxiety to stay physically and mentally healthy.
The mental health stigma prevents so many from getting the care they deserve. Fear and shame prevent both adults and kids from seeking out the support and resources the need – especially during a time of crises.
Did you know:
- Suicide is the 3rd leading cause of DEATH in kids ages 10-24, leading to approximately 4,600 lives lost each year[i].
- 1 in 5 teenagers suffer from some form of mental disorder[ii]
- 1 in 5 US adults aged 18 or older (18.3% or 44.7 million people) reported mental illness in 2016[iii]
- Nearly 1 in 4 police officers has thoughts of suicide at some point in their life[iv]
- More police and firefighters die by suicide than in the line of duty. In 2017 there were an estimated 140 police officer suicides and 103 firefighter suicides.[v]
Author, TED Speaker, and Advocate, Michelle E. Dickinson, joined me to talk about protecting your family’s mental health and wellbeing during covid-19; including tips and warning signs every parent and person should be aware of when monitoring their child’s mental health, and ways to get families talking to help support each other.
Tell us about your journey and your triumph over mental health.
I grew up with a mother who had bipolar disorder, and I was her caregiver as a child. That meant riding out the waves of her mania and her depression. So I learned very young what it looked like to have a mental illness. And I took on a lot of the responsibility of caring for her. It was definitely challenging.
But then as I got older – actually two years ago, I’m in my 40s now – I [myself] experienced mental illness for the first time. I dealt with my own bout of depression. In figuring out how to navigate that myself for the first time, it reminded me that nobody is immune to mental illness at any point in their life.
How people can decrease the stigma associated with mental illness, especially during times like these where we are experiencing a global pandemic?
I think stigma lives where there is no conversation. First and foremost, we need to start talking more openly about it. We must start viewing the brain as another organ in the human body, and not something that we should be ashamed of.
In these times of uncertainty and social distancing, there’s so many things that we can do. Even though we need to be isolated from each other, that doesn’t mean that we must be lonely. And there’s a lot of things that people can do to stay connected.
The best thing to do is to just slow down and really start to understand that simply put, this is just a different rhythm of life. It is an opportunity to stay in touch with people and connect with them, whether it be on social media, on Skype, on Zoom, or on the phone. The most important thing is that connection and that open conversation.
For families who have members of their household who work in industries that are on the frontline of the pandemic, or business owners who are working to stay open to help serve the needs of their communities, and all essential workers, tell us what can companies do to invest more in mental health in the workplace, and how can families advocate for that support?
That’s such a great question. I think more companies are starting to recognize that if they truly want to be an inclusive, diverse environment for their staff, they need to welcome people with not only physical disability, but invisible disability. That includes those people who suffer from depression, bipolar, anxiety, those types of diagnosis. So there’s a lot of things companies can do.
They need to obviously make sure that their employee assistance programs are robust and provide mental health support. They can also humanize the whole conversation around mental health by just setting good examples, having policies that support people with mental illness, having leaders step up and perhaps share a personal incident where maybe they were dealing with anxiety or stress and how they navigated it and really just normalize it and create a safe, open place for people to really be their authentic selves.
That also includes training leaders on how to have those conversations with employees. If they notice their performance is slipping, they can identify if it is solely work-related, or is there something else going on. And whether the employee know all the resources that are available to them to get support.
There’s a ton of uncertainty right now with the fate of the current school year for many students. How can parents and caregivers encourage their kids to talk about what they may be feeling and going through at this time?
Parents can start by leading by example and just sharing when they might be feeling a little anxious as a parent. Really talk to them and get connected. Share and be vulnerable about this uncertainty is making them feel anxious.
Another idea is to help kids adopt some type of breathing or meditation. Maybe teach them how to tap. Whatever it takes for them to manage their own wellbeing and openly share it, I think is going to set the example for their kids to say, “Hey, you know what? I might be feeling the same way.”
Just engaging in a dialogue could make all the difference. Because when you swirl in your head over something that you’re dealing with, it’s so scary versus when you articulate it to someone, it becomes far less scary.
What are some tips and warning signs that every parent should be aware of in monitoring their kids’ mental health at this time?
Our routines have been disrupted as we know them to be, and that includes sleep patterns. Some warning signs are if your child is resistant, not communicating, isolating themselves, not engaging in maybe regular interactions with their best friends online. If they just start acting out of the normal: not acting right, eating right, or sleeping right.
Recognizing how they’re behaving I think is really important. And if they’re connecting with their friends or not, if they’re isolating, that would be something I’d be very concerned about.
What are some steps that we can take to protect our mental health and wellbeing during these times?
And that’s a great question. And so necessary. Because I think people are just trying to figure it out as we go.
First of all, avoiding speculation and the over-consumption of the media. I know that people might think that they’re craving information, but just make sure that you’re not spending hours and hours of time reading and watching the media, because that’s not going to help.
Instead, try to stay connected to people by leveraging technology. We’ve always had a relationship to technology separating us from one another. Well, now’s a great opportunity to stay in touch with those people that we care about and we love.
Another thing is to make sure that you’re staying active. Getting some physical movement in every day, trying to maintain a healthy diet so your energy stays where it needs to be. That could be simply going for a walk and then making sure that you’re drinking enough water to stay hydrated.
There are things you can also do around teaching yourself to cope and to relax more. You could do deep breathing, some type of stretching, take a virtual yoga class, do some meditation or take some time for prayer. Learn how to tap; and do tapping exercises – that’s very helpful when it comes to removing stress.
Making sure you’re having conversations with your children, strive to reduce the negative impact on your children, but don’t overexpose it or avoid it. Be really honest with them about what’s going on.
For those who are self-isolated due to the circumstances, try to seek out some positivity and opportunity in it. Think about what you can purge for spring cleaning right now.
Also, try to maintain your routine of self-care as much as possible. Make sure that you’re looking after yourself. Take time to read a book, to get that walk in, and really just adopt a new type of routine, but make sure that you have a routine every day so that you can continue to be healthy and balanced.
For people who are suffering from mental illness or feel that they just may need someone to talk to in these times, or if they notice someone else in their household or a friend or family member who may be suffering, tell us what are some resources that are available.
Sure, absolutely. There’s a virtual community called 18percent.org – it’s a free online mental health peer to peer community where you can anonymously log in and just start to connect with other people who might be feeling overwhelmed, anxiousness, who might have symptoms of depression and they’re trying to figure it out. It’s literally there for you to connect and keep talking and find some hope in what other people are doing to cope.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness, NAMI (www.nami.org) is another great resource that will help you by providing you with clear signs and symptoms of what you might suspect you’re experiencing or a loved one is experiencing, and then also be able to give you some really great tips and resources. It’s a great website to go to. And then of course if you wanted to connect with me and hear some of the stories on my blog or find other resources, I can be reached at michelleedickinson.com.
Remember, there is no health without mental health. If you don’t have good mental health, you won’t be healthy. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, there are many free resources available to help you through this difficult time.
In addition to the resources stated above in the interview, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services maintains the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Disaster Distress Hotline with counselors available 24/7, 365 days a year. Call or text 1-800-985-5990 or go to samhsa.gov.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a national network of local crisis centers that provides free and confidential emotional support to people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress 24/7. Call 1-800-273-8255.
About Our Guest
Michelle Dickinson grew up with a mother who suffered from bipolar disorder and there was a great deal of shame around her diagnosis. After experiencing the highs and lows with her own mother, Michelle also navigated her own depression and went on to help build the largest and fastest growing mental health employee resource group at her former fortune 500 company. She is on a mission to create more conversations about this growing epidemic and help people identify the warning signs. No one needs to suffer in silence.
[i] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
[iv] National Alliance on Mental Health