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Our Kids’ Mental Health–the Covid Casualty We Need to Talk About

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Dr. Meg Meeker

Why is Covid affecting our kids’ mental health?

There are numerous ways that Covid has negatively affected our kids’ mental health but in my experience, these are the biggest culprits:

Social Media

During Covid, kids have spent more time on social media, where they see their friends posting happier lives, better friends, and more attractive figures. The longer they look at social media, the more they want to look at it—it’s addicting. And the longer they look at it, the more they feel they are falling short.

All kids, especially teens, want to feel like they fit in. Social media comparison makes them feel like they don’t, and that they’re not enough. These feelings can lead to anxiety and depression. The more time spent on social media, the more likely a child or teen is to experience depression.

Lack of Meaningful Relationships

Kids have learned a lot about relationships during Covid. Some good, some bad. They lived with their parents 24/7 for the first time. Most of those parents were adjusting to homeschooling their kids while trying to do their jobs. The stress in these relationships skyrocketed. Some families fought. Others grew to resent each other. And those who didn’t have good family relationships to begin with were reminded of that.

We know that people can’t survive without healthy intimate relationships and to the degree that Covid worsened them, depression rose. Of course, this didn’t happen with all families, but for some kids, their family ties worsened and that will inevitably lead to mental health issues.

Isolation

While many kids amped up digital communication during Covid, they never received the critical components of healthy communication so vital to good relationships: facial expressions, body language, touch. Without these, connections don’t feel complete. This lack of connection has led to depression in many of our kids.

There are many other reasons Covid has caused a mental health crisis among our kids, but these are the most important. I know this because I also saw the other side. Kids who were already spending more time with parents and siblings and less time on screens thrived the best. Going into Covid, they stood on solid ground. They had well-established communication and strong relationships and, therefore, were not forging new territory.

What can parents do about it?

First, we must be honest about a child’s and adolescent’s needs and not pretend that those needs are being filled outside of us. Kids need more time with us. They don’t necessarily need fun or quality time; they just need us in the room more often, so they can learn how to handle life during difficult times. And they need us in the room because isolation is a child’s enemy.

Second, they need us to pay close attention to them. We must watch our kids’ moods. If they seem down, lethargic or want to sleep a lot or spend hours alone in their rooms, we need to find out why. If they seem too happy—even giddy—this isn’t always a good sign either. They may be hiding something.

If you have any doubt at all that your child may be depressed or anxious get him help right away. You can start with your pediatrician. We handle these cases all the time.

Third, let your child know that the past two years have been rough. They have caused otherwise healthy kids to struggle. Then ask your child if she has struggled in any way. If so, ask her how. Then listen. Don’t interrupt or tell her she shouldn’t feel that way. That will make her stop talking.

If your child admits that she feels anxious or sad, reassure her that these feelings are normal and most importantly, tell her that help is available and that you want to work with her to find that help. Finally, ask your child if she agrees she needs help. You’d be surprised at how many kids will agree once their parents have a conversation like this with them.

Parents, use Mental Health Awareness month to become aware of your child’s mental health. They’ve likely suffered during Covid, but they need you to see it, talk to them about it, and help them get the help they need.

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