COVID-19 has and continues to affect us on a daily basis and in various ways, including our mental health. Most of our children may not have experienced the serious physical effects of the disease itself, however, their emotional and behavioral development has been greatly impacted since the beginning of the pandemic. So what are the long-term effects of COVID-19 on youth mental health? According to Dr. Mary Margaret Gleason, a child and adolescent psychiatrist, we must analyze past community crises (mass shootings, natural disasters, etc.) to understand how large-scale events have impacted our kids’ mental health in the long run. In summary, it has been shown that rates of mental health problems increase during and after a community crises and children who experience such event are most likely to develop anxiety, depression, disruptive behavior problems, sleep disorders, and substance use disorders.
So how can we help minimize the risk of trauma and build a safe and supportive environment in the midst of a pandemic? One of the strongest protective factor that helps prevent children from these negative outcomes is them having a healthy relationship with at least one supportive, caring adult. Whether that caring adult may be a parent or a teacher, adults play a role to ensure that children know they have someone they can turn to for safety and comfort. Whether you are a parent/caregiver, teacher, or a coach, check in with your kids routinely to see how they are feeling and help them organize or connect to their feelings by saying things such as “I know you are really sad that you can’t be with your friends” or “I know it is scary to now know what is going to happen next” if they having a difficult time labeling their feelings.