COVID-19 may be a physical ailment, but its effect on mental health is also significant.
As Washingtonians continue to follow stay-at-home orders and the daily news continues to reinforce that this epidemic will have massive impacts around the globe, folks at Cascade Mental Health are seeing an uptick in the number of folks seeking help, said Dr. Richard Stride, CEO of Cascade Mental Health.
First and foremost, he said his message to clients in general has been to find ways to maintain as much calm as possible.
“If we panic, panic spreads just like a virus,” Stride said. “So, there’s no need to panic.”
It is normal during a public health crisis to feel anxious or stressed, Stride said. When how people can battle these feelings, Stride didn’t pause “First, turn off the TV,” he said. Over consumption of news about COVID-19 can cause people to worry about situations that are out of their control, situations which may actually never happen, Stride noted.
“With stress, oftentimes it’s not based on reality,” Stride said. “It’s based on assumptions and I think that’s where people get the most stressed out.”
For parents, it is important to understand that stress also affects kids, but in a very different way, noted David Lawrence Hodgson, a counselor with Healing Through Grace counseling in Napavine, a former educator who specializes in counseling adolescents.
“It would definitely be different because our life experience is different,” Hodgson said. “Sometimes their reactions are going to be more behavioral. That’s one thing parents need to know.”
While adults may have learned tools to verbalize their own feelings, children may not have the ability to communicate what is happening inside their heads. Dallas Smith, director of Lewis County Head Start said parents should look for changes in behavior as an indicator for how their child is feeling. Changes might include: sleeping more than usual; not being able to get to sleep or stay asleep; a child having less energy than usual; or being more energetic, such as talking nonstop.
“Think about your anxiety level with everything changing and the news and the uncertainty with all the tools we as adults have to process what’s going on,” Smith said. “If you’re feeling anxiety at 80 percent, your kid is processing that at probably 150 percent.”
All 173 Lewis County Head Start centers were closed at the same time as other schools statewide.
Smith said the abrupt manner in which schools were closed is another factor that parents should keep in mind. Students had a lot of things taken away in a very short period of time and are now adjusting to a very new reality.
“The worst part of all of this was that the children weren’t able to have any time to process anything that was going on, along with the rest of us,” Smith said. “Especially in the last week of school, everything just changed at such a rapid pace.”
Talking to someone about your feeling surrounding this public health crisis is a great way to deal with stress and anxiety, Stride said. He said Cascade Mental Health intends to stay open in some capacity and available to clients 24/7, 365 days a year. Crisis phone lines are available and Stride said they are working to be able to offer video conferencing, but need to ensure that such a service is on a completely secure application.
“We’re here to help,” Stride said.
When it comes to talking to your kids about how they might be feeling about the COVID-19 pandemic, Hodgson said keep it short and simple. If they have questions, give them information you have verified through a credible source, such as the Centers for Disease Control or the department of health. Misinformation is bad for anyone, but for kids it is more so, Hodgson noted. An overload of facts can be stressful to some kids, so stick to the basics and emphasize what you can control.
“First and foremost, kids need to know they’re not alone, they are safe and they are loved,” Hodgson said.
And in a time of great stress, picking a less stressful time for check in with kids is also important.
“Do it during an activity, maybe washing dishes or playing a game,” Hodgson said. “Sometimes it’s more comfortable for us, even as adults, to talk during an activity rather than ‘sit down we need to talk.’ Unless that’s how you do it as a family where you have weekly family meetings or something like that. Keep their routines. Kids need normalcy, as we a do, because there are so many changes and so much uncertainty, it gives them a feeling of safety.”
Listening to what they have to say is definitely more important than talking, Smith noted. She said one helpful phrase she said often leads to great conversations with kids is telling them, “Take your time, I am listening”. But first, make sure you have the ability to give the child the patience they may need. Look at your own anxiety level before attempting to address your child’s
“On edge is not the time to talk to kids,” Smith said.