Because of the pandemic, we've placed a heavier focus on mental health for kids, our patients and families, and our team.

Let's talk about stress. How are the stress levels in your home? And how are you talking to your kids about their mental health?

Rise in mental health crises

Isolation, quarantine, and disruption of work and school are all having a negative impact on your child's mental health. Rates of depression, anxiety, and thoughts of suicide have increased during the pandemic. We don't know if the impact of the pandemic led to more suicides, but it's a fact that people are suffering because of unexpected stress.

The pandemic has greatly interrupted our lives and routines; many people are having financial difficulties, and people worry about their families, friends, and themselves being exposed to COVID-19. These are concerns that weren't even in the backs of our minds in 2019.

Monitor your child's mental health. Keep a close eye out for changes in mood, sleep, diet, and personal engagement. And bear in mind that stress often manifests itself in headaches or stomachaches in children. It's also very important to acknowledge your child's feelings and help them name their emotions. If your child is having negative thoughts, remind them that it's okay not to feel okay sometimes. But help them reframe thoughts like, "I'm so stupid, I'll never solve this math problem" to "This math problem is hard, but I know I can solve it." Small adjustments such as these can go a long way in helping manage stress levels.

Virtual school and stress

Virtual school attendance turned most kids' and caregivers' lives upside-down in a flash. So, how will kids be affected both in the short and long term? The honest answer is, "We don't know," we can only make educated guesses.

School is an enormous part of your kids' lives. It's a place where they learn, grow, and mature. For some kids, school is the only place they can get regular, nutritious meals. And many kids receive mental health aid through their school district. We will likely see some long-term mental or developmental effects that probably won't show up for a while. Right now, it's important to help kids deal with an ever-changing situation and meet as many of their development needs as possible.

Because the pandemic situation is ongoing, it's important for your child's mental health to think about how to connect them to others. Counselors report they see increased anxiety and depression in kids due to stress from so many new and different areas. But because of the pandemic, the typical solutions such as staying active and being with people have been compromised.

So what can you do to help? Most importantly, maintain a sense of order and structure. Emphasize to your kids that even when they have virtual days, it's still important to keep their normal school day routines. Consider scheduling a weekly family check-in to talk about where everyone is emotionally and stress-level-wise. If your child is feeling isolated from extended family, a weekly dinner video chat with grandma and grandpa, aunts, uncles and cousins can be a healthy practice.

Lessons in mindfulness or meditation can give your kids an advantage when it comes to stress management. Just a few minutes first thing in the morning helps set the tone for the rest of the school day. Simple breathing techniques can be beneficial, especially during challenging times throughout the day. A breathing exercise that even young children can benefit from is called "balloon breath." Have your child inhale through their nose and make their belly expand like a balloon. Then have them exhale through the nose pull the belly in, deflating the "balloon." Repeated a few times, this exercise can help ease the physical effects of stressful situations.

What to do in a mental health crisis

You can take important steps to handle a mental crisis in your family. As a parent or caregiver, these days it's important to be even more mindful and attentive to signs of kids becoming mentally exhausted.

In addition to the solutions we’ve provided, if you’re concerned about your child’s mental health, there are several options for professional help: 

  • Arkansas Children’s Behavioral Health Resource Line 501-364-4411. Clinically trained social workers will help match you with mental health resources. Available M-F 8-5.
  • National Suicide Lifeline 988, available 24/7/365.
  • Crisis Text Line text HOME to 741741.Crisis counselors available 24/7/365.

Add these numbers to your child's phone contacts and remind them that counselors are available to talk at any time. Anything you can do to help your child feel like they have some control of their lives goes a long way toward getting back to normal.