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8 Ways Parents Can Tell Their Child Is Struggling With Mental Health

September 03, 2021

By Cathy Walton Licensed Professional Counselor Program Director for Care Plus and Joshua Center Southeast Natchaug Hospital Another pandemic is brewing and it is dire: the mental health of children. As adults, we know firsthand the anxiety, stress and depression we have faced since the beginning of the pandemic nearly 18 months ago. But what about our kids? How have they been dealing with it? According to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study, between April and October of 2020, there was a 24 percent increase in the number of mental health emergency room visits for children ages 5 to 11 compared to the same time period in 2019. At Natchaug Hospital’s outpatient Joshua Center Southeast location in Groton, we see children ages 6 to 17 who are struggling with psychiatric or substance use issues. During a recent group therapy session, we asked the children about their COVID-related concerns. Some of the responses: not being able to see friends, not being able to escape a home-based safety concern, family members losing their jobs, family members dying of COVID, too much time to think about negative thoughts, friends dying by suicide and an increase in stress. These are not concerns children should have to worry about. What are the potential implications for the future? Numerous research articles have made note of potential impacts that can be devastating to this demographic, including long-lasting effects as seen with other disasters and pandemics, anxiety exacerbated by fear of the unknown, the negative effects of isolation from peers and the exposure to death. A study out of China found that quarantined children there scored four times higher on post-traumatic scores. A key factor in helping children cope is support. Adults should stay calm, offer reassurance and be available to talk in a safe, supportive environment to answer questions accurately that kids may have. By discussing their concerns, you are empowering them with the knowledge of what they can do to protect themselves and others. Try limiting their exposure to media and information, especially from unreliable sources. Teach relaxation skills and exercise together as a family. As a parent, how do you know if your child is struggling? Some signs to watch out for include:

  • Regressive behavior.
  • Sad or worrisome affect.
  • Decreased school performance, lower grades.
  • Decreased ability to focus.
  • Increase in physical complaints.
  • Changes in sleep or eating patterns.
  • Substance use.
  • Avoiding activities that were previously enjoyed.
Mental health needs for children are on the rise and the response has been poorly met. While technology can certainly be utilized to communicate, mental health services need to establish multi-disciplinary approaches to best offer support, something that Joshua Center Southeast has and continues to do to meet the needs of children and adolescents. Natchaug Hospital offers behavioral health and addiction treatment for children, adolescents and adults through a network of community-based programs in Danielson, Dayville, Enfield, Groton, Mansfield, Norwich, Old Saybrook, Vernon and Willimantic. For more information, please click here or call 860.456.1311.