Amid COVID-19 surge, focus on children’s mental health is crucial
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Bowie News Guide wins first place
The Bowie News “Guide” won first place special section for semiweeklies (division one) in the 2023 Texas Press Association Better Newspaper Contest.
The visitor’s and newcomer’s guide is the largest project produced by The Bowie News each year and showcases all of Montague County. The judges stated in their comments: “Of all the community guides this was the strongest. Strong design overall. Nice use of large photos to break up section…Visually this section is a compelling read. And at 140 pages, a huge advertising success. Well done.”
Bowie News Editor Barbara Green congratulated the staff on this first place, noting this project is touched by every member of the staff in some shape or fashion and kudos go to each for their role in producing it.
The Bowie News also received a third place in news writing and fourth place in feature writing.
Conservator says work on ‘Good Shepherd’ began none too soon
Restoration work on “The Good Shepherd” a massive 8-foot tall, 580 pounds leather art piece by Dell Motley began this week at Tales ‘N’ Trails Museum in Nocona.
Victoria Book Lupia, objects conservator with Legacy Conservation, has undertaken the massive undertaking for what was Motley’s largest art piece. Motley said she felt this one-of-a-kind art was her true calling to do “The Lord’s work in leather.”
The Good Shepherd was started in August, 1980 and completed 10 years later with a total of 5,014 hours. It weighs 580 pounds and is 7.9-feet X 6.10 feet in size. All the dye was handmade.
The Good Shepherd and The Ten Commandments have been in storage due to their size. The museum board members hope removing the plywood backing will help reduce the weight, as well as preserve the artwork. Each one also had a piece of plexiglass on top of them.
Read the full story in the weekend Bowie News.
Top photo- Gale Cochran-Smith and Victoria Book Lupia look at the Good Shepherd as Lupia the conservator began taking it apart for the restoration work. (TNT photo)
A close-up look at each lily shows the intricacies of each flower and how Motley strived to make them have texture and depth with some flat and others on top of leaves to have some lift. (TNT photo)
BCDB readies clean-up night
Bowie Community Development Board members and volunteers will have a downtown clean-up night at 5 p.m. on June 14.
Any volunteers are welcome. The group will meet at the corner of Mason and Tarrant Streets (finance department parking lot).
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