It's National Child and Youth Mental Health Day and BC Children’s Hospital has seen more than a 30 per cent increase in mental health presentations in the Emergency Department (ED) this February, compared to the same time the year before.
The ED saw increased mental health visits for symptoms including depression, anxiety, eating disorders and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
Preliminary studies show there is three to four times more anxiety, depression and OCD in children (aged 0-18 years) in the general population in B.C., when comparing December 2020 until today.
Miller is a psychiatrist at BC Children’s and says the isolation resulting from the pandemic is weighing on children and youth.
“Their activities are limited, they may not be able to have a full grad ceremony, their desire to ‘follow their passion’ may be sidelined and some support services are no longer around,” she says. “But, even though we don’t see an end in sight to the pandemic, it’s important to give kids hope.”
Remind children the pandemic is not going to last forever and that things are going to get better.
“Check in with them every once in a while and ask how they’re doing,” says Miller. “Play cards, do some baking together, go for a walk or even get them involved with household chores. Anything that connects the family again.”
Try not to have the family on separate screens all day. Make sure kids are staying in touch with friends. As always, a good schedule is important. Proper nutrition, sleep and physical activity are key to healthy children.
Parents can also help kids by keeping up their regular routines yet not putting too much pressure on academics this year. It hasn’t been a normal year and many youth have fallen behind. Even at the best of times, youth sometimes need a different path or time frame to get through school.
Going to school or doing work is important. Seeing friends and routine is important. But achievement may not be possible this year especially for those with learning differences, anxiety, ADHD and other mental health issues.
We need to show our kids we love them for who they are, not what they accomplish. Teachers and parents shouldn’t be hard on themselves or students this year but try to figure out what supports may be possible or how to flexibly adjust expectations.
A lot of the distress kids feel is about failing to live up to expectations. So we don’t want to give up and let them off the hook completely, but we do need to be realistic about just how challenging this year has been and continues to be.
Should teens lash out or rebel against parents’ advice, manage your own reactions and take a break, if necessary, to give space to all involved. Try to find a change of scenery and get outside when the family begins to feel cooped-up.
“Emotions rise and fall, but it’s parents who are leading that dance,” says Miller. “Try to talk and teach, but wait for a calm moment. I love the saying ‘strike when the iron is cold.’ Connect with kids first and ask questions later. Take time to enjoy each other’s company before bringing up any probing questions.”
Miller says no matter how much a child or teen may be struggling, we can see the good in them and help nurture their interests and strengths.
“As my teacher, Dr. Jane Garland, said, ‘There is always more right with you than wrong.’”
Teenagers and kids of all ages have shown amazing compassion and courage throughout this pandemic, from their artwork to their cooperation with pandemic rules to helping their families, friends and community members.
Find help when you need it
“And if you notice your child is way off base, access the mental health services that are here for families. It’s still safe to seek care during the pandemic.”
There’s websites that can help find assistance like Kelty Mental Health, Foundry or Anxiety Canada.
“If anything, talk to your family doctor,” says Miller. “And if you just can’t seem to find time or energy to get help, talk to your family or friends. Find support to get what you need to make the situation better for your family.”
And remember, she says, this pandemic and how it has unfolded isn’t your fault. Practise having self-compassion. There is light at the end of the tunnel and we’re all in this situation together. Until then, you can make positive change, even if it’s in small ways.Sign up for the Personal Impacts of COVID-19 Survey