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Children’s Mental Health & Learning During COVID: A Series

By Zach Clay, Licensed Marriage, Family, and Child Therapy

During this unprecedented and often challenging time in the world, we need to consider the impact everything has on children. The COVID-19 pandemic can be particularly tough for children’s mental health and their ability to learn. NOAH’s Behavioral Health team shares expert insight, best practices, and resources in this series of posts to help children maintain mental health in the era of COVID-19, social distancing, and distance learning.  

Identifying Depression & Developing Coping Skills for Children

Children experience the world around them – the good, the bad, the stressful, the happy, the uncertain – and sometimes need support to navigate everything. In many ways, children are similar to adults with mental health; identifying what is happening, talking about what is happening, and developing healthy coping skills. Here, we highlight ways to identify depression in young children and coping skills that are easy for children to do and remember.

Signs of depression in children

Children who are experiencing depression may show it in a variety of ways. They may express feeling hopeless, helpless, and discouraged and as caregivers, we should listen and help them explain what they are thinking and how they’re feeling. But we must listen without judgement, or without trying to “fix” things. Parents and other caregivers don’t need to agree with what they are saying but do need to let them know that they are heard and supported. For example, “I hear you. That sounds really hard and I’m sorry you are feeling sad. I love you.”

Symptoms of depression may include:

  • Changes to sleep patterns
  • Gaining or losing weight
  • Sadness or irritability
  • Loss of interest in activities they usually enjoy
  • Unusual sadness or irritability, even when circumstances change
  • Reduced feelings of anticipation or excitement
  • Sluggish or lazy
  • Overly critical of themselves, like “I’m ugly.” “I’m no good.” “I’ll never make friends.”
  • Feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness
  • Thoughts of or attempts at suicide

It’s important to understand that this is more than a bad day or two, or occasional behavior changes that go away. If you see one or more of these symptoms for two weeks, they can suggest depression and you should make an appointment to get them professional help and support.

Developing coping skills

An important part of managing anxiety and fear is with healthy coping skills. These skills help you deal with stressful situations in a healthy and productive way. Mindfulness techniques are beneficial for all ages and are especially helpful for children. Mindfulness means taking time to focus on the present, be thoughtful about your feelings, focus your thoughts, and be in the moment.

These exercises take a little effort, but the investment is worth it especially now when there is such uncertainty about the future and what our world will be post-pandemic. These activities can make mindfulness work for both parents and children.

  • Squeeze Muscles: Starting at your toes, pick one muscle and squeeze it tight. Count to five. Release, and notice how your body changes. Repeat exercise moving up your body.
  • Belly Breathing: Put one hand on your stomach and one hand on your chest. Slowly breathe in from your stomach (expand like a balloon) and slowly breathe out (deflate).
  • Meditation: Sit in a relaxed, comfortable position. Pick something to focus on, like your breath. When your mind wanders, bring your attention back to your breath. Do this for just a few minutes.
  • Blowing Bubbles: Notice and talk about their shapes, textures, and colors.
  • Coloring: Color something. Focus on the colors and designs.
  • Listening to Music: Focus on a whole song or listen to a specific voice or an instrument.

Mindfulness doesn’t have to be a big deal or extra work. Take a few minutes in the morning, after school, before bed, or a time that works for your child and family to practice mindfulness.

NOAH’s comprehensive team of behavioral health experts  can work with you, your child and your entire family to address stresses, depression, coping skills, and more.

Mental Illness Awareness Week – Mental Illness in Youth

By Katelyn Millinor, LPC

Mental health problems or disorders are surprisingly common in youth and children. The National Institute of Mental Health (NAMI) reports that 50% of all lifetime mental illnesses develop by age 14. However, differentiating the difference between expected behaviors and a mental illness can be tricky. In younger children, symptoms are typically behavioral as they are still learning how to deal with big emotions. Children can also have a hard time explaining how they feel or why they are behaving a certain way. Whether you are a parent, coach, teacher, religious leader, or just a trusted adult, you may be able to spot warning signs that a youth may need support or services.

Some common signs of mental illness in youth include:

  • Sudden changes in behavior (for example: has an active child becoming withdrawn and quiet or a good student starting to get poor grades)
  • Sudden change in feelings (for example: mood swings, lack of feelings)
  • Avoiding places or situations that have not been routinely avoided
  • New complaints of physical problems like headaches, stomach aches, problems eating or sleeping, or lack of energy
  • Suddenly keeping to themselves or increased shyness
  • Low self esteem
  • Frequent outbursts, tantrums, or meltdowns
  • Substance abuse
  • New physical harm to self, others, or property
  • Inattention or poor focus
  • Refusing to go to school
  • Difficulty with transitions within or between school, home, or social activities
  • Thoughts of death or dying

This list is not a complete list of symptoms. It is important to seek a complete medical exam to rule out any medical issues. Diagnosing mental illness in children may take some time and involve questionnaires or assessments. Psychotherapy can be helpful to assist the youth and the guardian or family members in treating symptoms and learning new skills. Mediation may also be helpful in specific situations.

NOAH has a team of trained clinicians such as doctors, counselors, and psychiatrists to help on this journey. No family or child has to navigate this alone.

Suicide Prevention Month

By Cody Randel, PA-C

September is suicide prevention month, an important time to share resources and experiences to try and bring attention to a highly stigmatized topic. This month is when we reach out to those affected by suicide, raise awareness, and connect people with suicidal ideation to treatment and other services. It is also necessary to involve friends and family in the conversation and to make sure everyone has access to the resources they need to talk about suicide prevention.

When people seek professional help for depression, anxiety, and/or helplessness, they are far too often met with challenges like affordability, geographical access, privacy and safety, and not knowing what resources are available to them.

Most people who die by suicide had a diagnosable mental health condition.

Suicide Warning Signs

  1. Talking about – experiencing unbearable pain, feeling trapped, killing themselves, having no reason to live, being a burden to others.
  2. Behavior – Withdrawing from activities, acting recklessly, visiting or calling people to say goodbye, increased use of drugs and/or alcohol, isolating from friends and family, aggression, giving away possessions, researching suicide methods.
  3. Mood – Depression, rage, irritability, anxiety, lack of interest, humiliation.

Suicide Prevention Resources

Find a Mental Health Provider:
– findtreatment.samhsa.gov
– mentalhealthamerica.net/finding-help
– Text TALK to 741741; text with a trained crisis counselor from the Crisis Text Line 24/7

Visit:
– Your Primary Care Provider. If you don’t have one, NOAH can help.
– Your Mental Health Professional
– Walk-in Clinic
– Emergency Department
– Urgent Care Center

Call:
– National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
– 911 for Emergencies
– National Suicide Helpline: 800-273-8255
– Trans Lifeline: 877-565-8860
– The Trevor Project: 866-488-7386
– RAINN: 800-656-4673

Suicide prevention is a critical issue every day of the year. If you or someone you know is struggling, this is not something to face alone. Reach out to the NOAH team to learn more about our services.

*sources: NAMI, afsp.org/respources, American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, TWLOHA

Recognizing Anxiety – Video

Our friends at Mental Health America note “While we can’t completely shield young people from all the #traumatic situations they may face, we can help them learn to manage their #emotions and reactions in ways that cultivate #resilience.” Our Care Team at NOAH offers behavioral health #consulting and traditional outpatient #counseling. Our Psychiatric Nurse Practitioners work alongside #medical and #behavioralhealth to assess, diagnose and effectively treat the core-symptoms of our patients.

Understanding Depression – Video

Learn the signs of #depression from our friends at Mental Health America. If you are concerned about your #child and think he or she may be dealing with a #mentalhealthissue, reach out and start a conversation. Our Psychiatric Nurse Practitioners work alongside #medical and behavioral health to assess, diagnose and effectively treat the core-symptoms of our patients. To schedule an apt., please call 480-882-4545!


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