How to support children’s mental wellbeing during the COVID-19 pandemic

Tips for building routines and resiliency, for yourself and your family

It has been over two years since the first case of COVID-19 was reported in the U.S. and the declaration of a public health emergency. As a result, families around the globe have experienced loss and were forced to adapt to a new reality that has been particularly harder to navigate for students. A recent CDC study found more than a third of high school students experienced poor mental health during the pandemic, while almost half reported they often felt sad or hopeless. This adds significant stress to families that are already experiencing serious challenges from the pandemic.

We spoke to Indira Melgarejo, a mental health counselor serving families and children, to discuss the effects of the pandemic on children’s mental, emotional and educational wellbeing.

Below is an overview of her advice and potential resources for families seeking support.

How has the pandemic affected children?

The pandemic caused trauma and mourning for us all. But many children lost their parent, grandparent or other caregiver during the pandemic, leaving many orphaned. This loss is a trauma that can affect people their entire life.

The pandemic’s stay-at-home order greatly changed our daily routines. These changes affect the whole family. Some parents lost jobs. Other parents began working from home. For a while, children could not go to school. This stress brought about an increase in domestic violence. For many children going to school is their place of relief from this and other domestic problems.

We’ve seen increases in mental health issues like depression, anxiety, and eating disorders among young people at rates we haven’t seen before. More children went to emergency rooms for mental health problems. They arrive with very acute symptoms, like suicidal thoughts, substance abuse, aggression, self-injury, or eating disorders.

What can I do if I am worried about my children?

With so many changes during the pandemic, it is normal and understandable for you to worry about your children’s academic performance, social, and overall psychological wellbeing.

One way we can help children — especially young children — is with social skills. You can do this by ensuring children have time to play, be with other children, to explore, and to be curious.

You can help them express their emotions by teaching them to give a name to what they are feeling. For example, a child throwing a tantrum may not know they are sleepy or upset. You can help them identify this so later they can use it in different situations, or outside of the home when interacting with others.

Or you might have noticed your children are falling behind in school. Maybe your children are avoiding homework, reading, or have difficulty managing their time. My advice would be to talk to their teachers. They will have more insight on what your children face outside of home.

Where can I seek help for free or at a low cost?

There are many services available to the community at no cost to you or that do not require proof of health insurance.

Schools are a great resource for services. It’s likely that your children’s schools already have a plan in place; talk to your children’s teachers to learn more about the resources available. Many schools have dedicated staff such as a school psychologist, or teachers with mental health specializations.

There are some non-profit organizations that can help too. WithinReach, for example, has a hotline called Help Me Grow Washington staffed by friendly, local, and knowledgeable staff who speak English and Spanish who can assist in finding health resources. They also have interpreters available for additional languages. Call Help Me Grow Washington at 1–800–322–2588.

You can seek assistance through churches or any faith-based community centers. In addition to offering services within these centers, they often have a network of other support services within the community. They may even have funds available to aid with paying for some of these services and specialists.

There are also free or community clinics where many specialists do not require you to have health insurance to provide care.

Can I access more information online?

Yes! I really like Child Mind Institute; this organization has a comprehensive website and is available in both English and Spanish. You can subscribe to their newsletter, and they send a new article every week with useful information for families.

The CDC Parent Toolkit offers useful information grouped by age. Some of the resources include routines, addressing breaks in education because of COVID-19, access to health care, significant life events, and relationships.

In addition to accessing the many resources available by the Washington State Department of Health, you can also seek help with the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services, or with the Washington State Health Care Authority where qualifying people can obtain insurance for free or at a very low cost that is paid by the state of Washington.

Who should I contact in the event of an emergency?

For a medical emergency or if you fear someone is in immediate danger, call 911.

We now have 988 — a free emergency line like 911 — that is specifically for a mental health crisis that can’t wait (press 2 for assistance in Spanish). They can also help you find resources. It is confidential and available all hours of the day and night, every day of the year.

This blog is accurate as of the date of posting. Information changes rapidly, so check the state’s COVID-19 website for the most up-to-date info at coronavirus.wa.gov. You can also sign up to be notified whenever we post new articles.

WA Notify can send you anonymous alerts you if you’ve been near another user who tested positive for COVID-19. Add WA Notify to your smartphone today: WANotify.org. WA Notify is available in more than 30 languages.

Don’t have a smartphone but are still interested in accessing WA Notify? The federal government’s Lifeline program provides a monthly phone bill credit for those who qualify. Some participating wireless service providers may also provide a free smartphone. Learn more about the program, who qualifies, how to apply and participating wireless providers.

Need free COVID-19 self-test kits? Washingtonians are able to order up to 10 free tests per month via Say Yes! COVID Test.

People who purchase over-the-counter self-test kits and receive a positive result can call the Department of Health call center to officially report these test results. Dial 1–800–525–0127 then press # (press 7 for Spanish). Visit the Contact Us page for hotline hours. Language assistance is available.

Vaccines are the best way to stop the spread of COVID-19. The COVID-19 vaccine is now available to everyone 6 months and older. Find more information about the vaccine and use the vaccine locator tool to find an appointment. The COVID-19 vaccine is provided at no cost to you.

Answers to your questions or concerns about COVID-19 in Washington State may be found at our website. You can also contact the Department of Health call center at 1–800–525–0127 and press # from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday, and 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday — Sunday and observed state holidays. Language assistance is available.

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