Not long after COVID-19 started shutting things down last year, I got a call from my sister. Her oldest, a 13-year-old who had been used to socializing with his peers at school, was not doing well in his online classes.
“He’s just not learning,” she told me. “I try to get him to participate, but it’s just not happening. What’s going on?”
A lot of parents started asking that same question as schools transitioned to an online environment. Many kids were doing well with the change, handling assignments and tests with ease. Others, though, started disengaging. They started showing signs of irritability, had some trouble sleeping, or maybe avoiding school altogether.
For my sister and nephew, the diagnosis came quickly. It turned out that he had an anxiety issue around the online environment. They both learned some new ways of working through it that helped him get back to the task of learning. Happiness abounded around improving grades!
Not every parent notices the signs of a potential issue like my nephew’s. For some, they think it is just that the kids don’t want to engage because they’re not in a “real” classroom.
The mental health concerns we see in kids since COVID-19 hit are just one aspect. Those concerns were around in many kids before COVID, and they’ll be around after, too.
So what does a parent do? First, know that your child isn’t alone if he or she shows signs of a mental health issue. It can feel complicated, too. Kids are growing and symptoms can differ depending on a child’s age. Kids also may not be able to tell you how they feel, according to experts at the Mayo Clinic.
Here are some things to look for in your kids to know it might be time to find some help:
• Sadness that lasts two or more weeks
• Withdrawing from socializing
• Drastic swings in mood or personality
• Weight loss
• Trouble sleeping
• Problems concentrating
• Changes in their grades
If these things stick around for awhile, talk with your doctor and let him or her know what’s going on. You can also check with your child’s teachers, other relatives, or other close friends who interact with your child about what they’ve noticed. Your doctor could recommend that you see a professional to diagnose the issue.
May is Mental Health Month, a good time to build awareness of the behavioral health concerns that affect our kids and families day to day and learn coping mechanisms to recover.
Whether that involves psychotherapy or medications, recovery is possible – and it works!
John Cummings is Deputy Director of Communications for the Mental Health Recovery Board of Warren & Clinton Counties.