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Amid COVID-19 surge, focus on children’s mental health is crucial

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By Christina Hoppe

The recent surge in COVID-19 cases—caused in part by the Omicron variant—has left many people wondering whether this pandemic will ever end. COVID-19 has upended how we work, go to school, visit our families, and receive health care. While so much of what we focus on in our daily lives revolves around case counts and hospitalization numbers, parents have also been left to grapple with their children’s mental health in this new and uncertain world. A November 2020 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report showed that the proportion of mental health issues among all pediatric emergency room visits has increased and remained high. For children ages 5 to 11, visits rose 24% over the same months in 2019. The spike was 31% for teens ages 12 to 17. 

Kids’ mental health issues were already rising in Texas, and the pandemic has only exacerbated these problems. 

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, mental health challenges were the leading cause of disability and poor life outcomes in young people, with up to 1 in 5 children ages 3 to 17 in the U.S. having a mental, emotional, developmental, or behavioral disorder. During the pandemic, the volume and frequency of diagnoses such as anxiety and depression in children have continued to climb in Texas as they have across the country. Pediatric emergency department visits for mental health conditions have risen steadily, and the additional stress being inflicted upon families as a result of the pandemic is confounding. 

There are many factors contributing to this increase in kids’ mental health conditions, including the difficulty of children adjusting to virtual learning, the lack of socialization with friends and the ability to participate in sports and activities, physical isolation, grief, and loss of primary and secondary caretakers. The U.S. Surgeon General, in a 2021 report, has called on the country to work together to step up for our children and emerge stronger on the other side of this pandemic.

It is critical for adults who care for children to watch for signs that those children are experiencing mental health issues.

Here are some tips for taking care of your child’s mental health during these stressful times: 

  1. Talk openly about feelings. By keeping the channels of communication open, kids will feel reassured that they can come to you no matter what. Recognizing that their feelings have value will make it more likely that your children will continue talking about how they’re feeling throughout difficult times. Create opportunities for communication by spending time with your children in activities and play.
  2. Keep a routine. Kids thrive in routine, so when things – like COVID – upend their daily lives, it can add stress and uncertainty to the difficult feelings kids may already be navigating. Create routines for studying, physical activity, playing, snacks, meals and, most importantly, bedtime. And ensure that kids get enough sleep every night.
  3. Limit kids’ exposure to the news and social media. While we, as adults, often want to stay informed about crises like COVID, it is important to remember that constant information can be confusing and anxiety-inducing for kids. So, limiting kids’ exposure to news and social media is important.
  4. Make time for physical activity. Exercise and active play are some of the best things for children’s mental health. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that children over six-years-old get at least 60 minutes of physical activity each day. 
  5. Limit screen time. Children should spend no more than two hours a day on screen-time activities. For kids, anxiety, depression, and loneliness are often the result of too much screen time. A 2018 study showed that, after an hour of screen time per day, increasing screen time was generally linked to progressively lower psychological well-being. The study also found that high users of screens were significantly more likely to have been diagnosed with anxiety or depression.
  6. Watch out for signs of trouble. No two children are the same but looking out for signs of distress can help you know when to take action. Some such signs include difficulty controlling emotions; younger children’s regressing and throwing temper tantrums, exhibiting disruptive behaviors, and school avoidance; avoiding normal activities; withdrawing from relationships with friends and family; erratic behavior; or a continuous sad mood. Talk to your children’s primary care physician and/or the counselors at your child’s school as a first step. 

At the Children’s Hospital Association of Texas (CHAT), we are committed to educating about the value of comprehensive children’s hospitals and the unique care they provide. 

Kids are not just little adults—caring for them requires specialized skill and training. If you are struggling with your child’s mental health and need more immediate care, consider seeking treatment at a comprehensive children’s hospital or via telehealth if you do not live near a hospital. Learn more at chatexas.com.

Christina Hoppe is the senior public policy director for the Children’s Hospital Association of Texas. 

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COUNTY LIFE

Mardi Gras Nocona-Style celebrating 13th year of festival parades

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Nocona is busy getting ready for its largest festival of the year, Mardi Gras Nocona Style with activities Feb. 11-18.
This Nocona Chamber of Commerce puts its own unique spin on the Mardi Gras theme with a parade or events planned each day of festival week, climaxing with the “Big Parade” on Feb. 18.
The festival opens Feb. 11 with the Mardi Gras Ball, which is already sold out.
On Feb. 12 the parade week begins with the popular Krewe de Barkus pet parade. Registration is at 1:30 p.m. with the parade at 2 p.m. at Mary Beckham Davis Park in downtown. There is no entry fee, but donations are accepted and will go to the Nocona Lucky Paws Shelter.

Read the full slate of events for the week in your weekend Bowie News.

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COUNTY LIFE

Friends of Animal Shelter plan Feb. 11 fundraising event

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Live music, food and fun will be offered at a fundraiser benefitting the Friends of the Bowie Animal Shelter at 6 p.m. on Feb. 11 at The Hall, 1401 Jakes Road, Bowie.
Monty Dawson, Bowie’s own country music entertainer, will provide live music. Guests can enjoy pizza, salad and dessert for a meal all for $10.
Other activities will include silent auction and a fun photo booth where you and your friends can strike a pose.
The Friends are working to raises funds for a new storage building to replace the present one that is more than 18 years old and beginning to rust out.
These volunteers are very active in caring for the animals, supporting medical care and helping maintain the shelter.
Anyone who would like to donate an item or a basket to the silent auction can message the Friends’ Facebook page.

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COUNTY LIFE

Saint Jo artist featured speaker for ‘Cowgirl Connection’

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Internationally-known artist Donna Howell-Sickles of Saint Jo will be the featured speaker at the new monthly lecture series, “Cowgirl Connection,” at the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame.
Howell-Sickles is a 2007 cowgirl honoree to the Hall of Fame. The program will be from 5:30-7 p.m. Feb. 16 at the Cowgirl for wine and light bites, complimentary parking, shopping and more. The museum is located at 1720 Gendy Street in Fort Worth.
This is a free event, however, space is limited and advanced reservations are required. RSVP to Jennifer Legrand at JLEGRAND@cowgirl.net.
This popular artist has deep roots in Saint Jo, and she and husband John, renovated two historic buildings on the town square for their Davis & Blevins Gallery. Howell-Sickles’ studio is located upstairs where she creates unique western art that features beautiful cowgirls with their horses or dogs. They have become iconic as they usually have a strong red lipstick. Her original inspiration for the ladies came from a 1935 cowgirl on a rodeo post card. In her pieces, the cowgirl achieves the status of a heroine, and her images have brought her national attention and success. Her work is rich with symbolism and allusions to classical mythology, but the viewer does not need to be familiar with those in order to appreciate the female affirmations of each piece.

Photo caption – Donna Howell-Sickels welcomes guests to an art exhibit at Davis & Blevins. (Bowie News photo)

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