Student mental health under the microscope as kids return to school during pandemic
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - For some, the back-to-school season is their favorite time of year, but with COVID cases rising and guidelines everchanging, students may have a few more jitters than usual.
“Over one million children have lost a caregiver during the pandemic due to COVID-19,” Dr. Eloise Weeks, the behavioral health medical director of Kentucky Anthem Medicaid, said.
The virus has disrupted and stressed every aspect of many people’s lives. As students head out of the house and back into the classroom, Weeks said parents need to be aware their children may be carrying more than a pencil and paper on their backs in their packs.
“They have experienced instability in their homes due to financial problems, job loss, relocation, changes obviously in school habits,” Weeks said.
Many children are dealing with skyrocketing levels of anxiety, along with fears of not being able to keep up with the rest of the class when it comes to schoolwork. Weeks pointed out that behavioral health related emergency room cases have increased by 30% for children ages 5 to 11 and 31% for children ages 12 to 17. There has also been an increase in children reporting unhappiness during the pandemic at a rate of 30%.
“One of the biggest mistakes we make as far as children is not listening, not reaching out,” Weeks said. “Also, assuming they’re OK.”
She said young children may not have the vocabulary to express their fears and concerns, but their behavior or their complaints may tell the story.
“Their stomach hurting, they may complain of not feeling well, headaches rather than being able to verbalize, ‘I’m sad, I’m angry, nervous,’” Weeks said.
Older students may be able to discuss how they feel but may choose not to talk.
“They may be reacting more with their peer group than their parents so unfortunately although they have the vocabulary, they may not feel comfortable expressing that to their parents,” Weeks said.
The most important lesson for the entire family is to be patient and loving with each other, she said.
“Having conversations with children is important,” Weeks said.
The doctor said one good lesson for children to learn this school year is to respect everyone’s feelings and beliefs as everyone makes their way to the end of the COVID pandemic.
“Members of their peer group or friends may have different beliefs regarding the virus or regarding mask wearing,” Weeks said. “This is a great opportunity to teach children about being nonjudgmental (or) being tolerant even in the face of having different values from another person.”
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