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Mental health issues rise in children as pandemic continues to take toll

KEZI 9 News spoke to several families, as well as experts about the issue that many say deserves more attention.

Posted: Feb 23, 2021 6:15 PM
Updated: Feb 23, 2021 6:50 PM

LANE COUNTY, Ore.-- As the one-year anniversary of the coronavirus pandemic approaches, it's clear that it's taken a mental toll on the lives of us all, in one way or another.

That’s no exception for children, who crave and miss social interaction and even the support of a therapist or teacher in the classroom.

KEZI 9 News spoke to several families, as well as experts about the issue that many say deserves more attention.

Experts say that that social isolation, stress, depression and suicidal thoughts have increased throughout the pandemic.

Carina Hallock is a mother of four in Eugene.

“Mental health, for sure, is most important right now,” Hallock said. “Academics aren't going to come if they're not in a place to learn.”

She said she’s feeling optimistic that things will get better but wants to encourage other parents to look out for signs that point to your child needing additional support.

“Sometimes you just need to pull the child in, love them and fill their cup with whatever they actually need and learning can come later,” Hallock said.

Debra Depew is the Lead Family Partner at Eugene’s Oregon Family Support Network.

“They miss their friends,” Depew said. “It’s very unusual for little kids not to sit on the rug in kindergarten and be able to sit right next to their buddy and say hey isn't that a cool story?”

Eugene resident Brandi Geddis is a mother of two. Distance learning has been far from easy for her family. She described just one of several outbursts her son has had.

“He literally flipped over our coffee table one day,” Geddis said. “I have a nice old vintage round coffee table, and he flipped it over by himself. It was purely out of frustration from school.”

She said mental health urgently deserves more attention, sharing some alarming conversations she’s had with both of her boys, just six and nine years old.

"My six-year-old has said, mom, I'd rather die than do this," Geddis said. "My nine-year-old has said mom I don't want to do this. I want kill myself."

While her older son has been able to receive one-on-one help, her youngest is still on a waiting list. She said more mental health resources need to be made available now.

Others shared the importance of listening, and paying attention to the emotions your kids are feeling.

Depew suggested one step parents can take for their students.

“Being able to ask the school, you know, my son or daughter might need a break from the camera,” Depew said. “Is it okay if we're unmuted and off camera? And then if you call on them, they can turn the camera back on and respond, so they don't feel like they have to be in front of the whole audience all day long.”

She said taking breaks is key too.

Many shared tips on how their families are able to find some balance.

“We go for a lot of bike rides,” Geddis said. “We go for a lot of walks. We go and we dig in our garden. My first grader and I yesterday were playing kickball out in our backyard. I try and register them for every sport I can find in person.”

Experts said getting fresh air, limiting screen time when it’s not needed and setting aside time to check in with your child each day is critical.

“My heart goes out to the teachers, because they're doing their best,” Geddis said.

Amalie Lantz is the Intensive Treatment Services (ITS) Day Treatment Clinic Supervisor at The Child Center.

“Developmentally, social interaction is extraordinarily important, especially for younger children,” Lantz said. “As well as the normalcy and structure that schools provide. Schools provide access as external resources for the families, which can help ensure that kids are receiving needed support, especially when it comes to having basic needs met.”

She said this is especially true for children in homes where there may be challenges surrounding substance abuse or a history of domestic violence.

“Schools are also often a source of external support for safety oversight and connecting kids to other resources to help keep them safe,” Lantz said. “For vulnerable families who are already dealing with challenges, socio-economically and/or with mental health, having no support outside of the home can cause increased stress. It's definitely a hard balance to find between knowing kids and youth need schools as a way to access that support, while acknowledging the concerns around safety for the students, teachers, and staff when having in-person instruction.”

Lantz said that they’ve seen an increase in families reaching out for support, looking for more resources.

“We know for parents especially, not having the ability to have separate space, the difficulty becomes not having a physical ability to have space to decompress to utilize their own coping skills to in turn be as able to support their kids,” Lantz said. “It's also important to note, that the overarching fears that come from living within a pandemic can heighten and exasperate prior trauma, especially regarding grief and loss. It can compound the mental health challenges children and families may already be experiencing or have experienced.”

If you or a loved one is suffering from thoughts of suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK.

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