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Good Mental Health Is Essential For Children Area mental health experts are here for your child and family
By Matthew St. Amand
One thing people likely will not miss, once the COVID-19 global pandemic has passed, is most of the news being “All COVID, all the time!” The coronavirus outbreak has been the O.J. Simpson trial of public health events.
Pandemics have occurred throughout human history, many more catastrophic than this current strain of the coronavirus.
Each event had its own, unique historical footprint, and COVID-19 will be no different.
Aside from the technology used to treat those infected, and to create a vaccine to fend it off, there is another aspect of the current crisis that is unique to our time — the focus on mental health.
The toll of open-ended lockdowns on the human psyche is an ongoing conversation. People are social creatures and the isolation of “sheltering in place” for prolonged periods, comes with a cost.
In the realm of criminal justice, the subject has been studied and debated at length. In a 2018 edition of Psychology Today, UN Special Rapporteur Juan E. Mendez’s report is quoted: “Solitary confinement, [as a punishment] cannot be justified for any reason, precisely because it imposes severe mental pain and suffering beyond any reasonable retribution for criminal behaviour and thus constitutes an act defined [as] . . . torture.”
Sheltering in our homes is not fully comparable to solitary confinement in prison, but its effects should not be minimized.
At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, during the first lockdown, memes were rife on social media, downplaying the effects, speaking of previous generations that endured World War I, the Great Depression, and World War II, and people of today simply being asked to sit on their couches all day watching TV.
Soft-pedalling our collective experience in that way is neither accurate, nor is it helpful.
While adults struggle with the effects of limited social contact with the outside world, balancing bills with altered work schedules and interrupted income, it’s easy to forget the effects the pandemic has on our kids.
Books on parenthood stress the need for structure and routine in the lives of children.
With the school year interrupted for those attending, and with thousands of children learning online, at home, structure and routine are two more casualties of these unprecedented times.
Biz X reached out to mental health experts in Windsor and Essex County to learn what parents can do to identify if their children are suffering. More importantly, to discover what strategies can be used in the home, and what resources exist in the community to help those who are struggling with anxiety, depression, and other disorders resulting from protracted isolation.
Mental Health Organizations And Business Professionals Are Just A Phone Call Away
Kim Willis, Director, Communications and Mental Health Promotion with the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) Windsor-Essex County Branch) puts things in perspective at the outset: “There is no health without mental health.”
Regarding signs that children are having a hard time, Willis says negative changes in behaviour over an extended time period should be noted.
“If someone is usually very outgoing and positive, but has become isolated and negative, that would be an indicator,” she explains. “Also, anything that inhibits your ability to function on a daily basis. We all have bad days, feel irritable, but if a child is sleeping all the time, doesn’t want to engage with the family, doesn’t want to go outside — those should raise a red flag with parents.”
She stresses the importance of checking in with your children, asking them how they feel and what their thoughts about the pandemic, or how they feel about going back to school.
“Adults need to also break out of their shells because we’re all experiencing this together,” Willis continues. “The pandemic has impacted everyone.”
Her advice begins with the basics: “Try and remain positive — for your children. Focus on what is within your control. It’s easy to dwell on the negative, but the sense of positivity and optimism is important.”
She also suggests organizing daily and/or weekly family activities, such as walks, board games — activities that, preferably, do not involve screens.
“If your child is exhibiting troublesome behaviour, services are available,” states Willis. “Much has been shut down, but mental health and addictions services are considered essential.”
For children 16 years of age and younger, parents can contact the Regional Children’s Centre (RCC). In pre-pandemic times, RCC offered walk-in services, but during COVID-19, people are encouraged to call 519-257-5437 (KIDS) to make an appointment.
“For people over the age of 16, there are several options,” Willis points out.
The Hôtel-Dieu Grace Healthcare Crisis and Mental Wellness Centre (TSC building) has a 24-hour crisis line: 519-973-4435.
There is also the Kids Help Phone, which can be accessed at 1-800-668-6868.
The Kids Help Phone is Canada’s only 24/7, national support service. It offers professional counselling, information, and referrals, as well as volunteer-led, text-based support to young people in English and French. The service is completely confidential.
“We will get through this,” assures Willis. “If you’re struggling mentally, that impacts your whole life. We must take care of each other and ourselves. If you or a family member is having trouble with anxiety, depression, grief, reach out. You owe it to yourself, your family, and your friends.”
Caitlin Keanie, RSW, Intake Coordinator/Co-owner, SPARK Pediatric Services (Sparking Pivotal Achievements in Remarkable Kids) believes it is helpful that we all get on the same page about what is meant by the term “mental health”.
“When people think of ‘mental health’, they often think of it in terms of the presence of psychological problems,” Keanie says. “In actuality, the term refers to our overall emotional, psychological, and social well-being.”
Keanie explains that having a bad day does not necessarily mean a child needs psychological help. She does point out, however, that everyone benefits from the support of a professional in developing healthy thinking patterns, behavioural habits, and positive coping methods for their problems.
“It can take a great deal of emotional energy to actively listen to our children’s experiences and emotions,” she continues, “and to respond positively and empathically.”
Keanie goes on to say that it’s helpful for parents to take time to reflect on how their own physical and mental state impacts their ability to respond appropriately to their children’s strong feelings. It’s certainly not easy, but parents are encouraged to model, in their everyday life, how they identify and regulate their own emotions — including taking moments to themselves when needed.
She makes the point: “Self care is not selfish. It’s essential.”
Keanie emphasizes that self care for the whole family should be encouraged, prioritized, and individualized, based on what makes each person feel happy and calm. Whether it’s getting outside, creating art, making music, journaling, or playing board games. We all need something that gets us out of our own heads for a span of time.
“If a parent feels their child’s mental health is being negatively impacted,” Keanie says, “whether at home, school, or in other areas of their lives — then counselling can be an effective option.”
Sometimes, there are specific events in children’s lives that may amplify the need for mental health support, such as major transitions, death in the family, divorce, or — as of late — global pandemics.
“We, at SPARK, are always happy to answer questions regarding ways that our services can support children, youth, and families in the community!” enthuses Keanie.
For imminent crises, including children/youth, 16 years of age or older, who may be at risk of doing harm to themselves or others, families can contact the 24-hour crisis line by calling 519-973-4435.