Greater Reliance on NMH As School Opens

Authored by Sandra Oxx
August 12, 2020

A Texas mother appeared on the nightly news recently claiming the impossible task she had before her: to send her child back to school this fall amidst record high coronavirus outbreaks or to watch her child sink further into despair and fall further behind in her academic performance. Her child like some others in the district has a pre-existing learning disorder along with an emotional disorder—a combination which can make a child overly prone to a mental health crisis.

The Texas parent is not alone. The isolation and uncertainties of the pandemic has waged a worrisome war on kids especially. Their social and emotional learning, so necessary for developmental growth is hampered with distance learning. A New York Times article cites results of a national survey noting that parent and child response to distance learning during COVID-19 is disappointing at best. Census survey data shows a 30 percent increase in anxiety in students during the pandemic. Parents, too, worry about their jobs.

To mitigate the Covid-19 pandemic amidst a backdrop of surging behavioral health and economic needs is complex enough, and made more so by the history that shows us during stressful times there is a greater reliance on community mental health centers.

First, it is important for Rhode Island residents to reach out to their local State legislators and Congressman to advocate for the continuance of telehealth funding for the behavioral health community. NMH clients (both children and adults) rely on regular therapy sessions. During the pandemic, even more so. However, some members of the RI Assembly, under pressure from health insurance lobbyists, are considering striking down the telehealth bill. This measure could leave thousands of Rhode Islanders unable to receive remote mental health treatment during the pandemic.

Secondly, students returning to school will be confronted with the unknowns of a hybrid, partial program, where some days there will be in-person learning and some days there will be distance learning. School will not look or feel the same, even for those elementary children who most probably will be returning full time to the classroom.  The constant in everyone’s life, the opening of school, has now become transitory and often with transition comes anxiety. Yet on occasion creativity and opportunity crops up too, as in the example below.

On a Zoom call recently with about 20 agency experts involved in the Newport County Prevention Coalition (NCPC), we remarked about the lack of excitement in children and parents regarding the first day of school. With the pandemic unknowns, the shopping for school supplies and clothes seems to be on the back burner.

The NCPC members reasoned that with the constant unknown of school rendering so much uncertainty, perhaps it is useful to create a different sort of constant: a series of fun, fallback activities that parents and caregivers can do with their kids. Some of them include creating a gratitude journal together, going outside for a short walk everyday together. What you do together or how long you do it is not important. It’s the person to person contact that’s important and the routine that’s being created that provides a sense of uniformity and security in an uncertain world.

There is no denying that with school days approaching, there is a NEED for new routines, relationships rebuilding, new expectations, and rules. Adapting to these new routines and rules will require children to muster an enormous amount of self-regulation and concentration. Teachers and parents need to pay attention to their own abilities to self-regulate and concentrate. Children are looking to the adults about how to make sense of and feel about this whole situation.

Teachers and parents should be on the lookout for unusual behaviors-jumpy kids, hyperactive or the very opposite-withdrawn, quiet kids or those continually unable to make any type or shape of school, whether it be face to face learning or distance learning.   Other signs linked to anxiety include irritability, anger, tearfulness and lack of concentration.

Parents who would like to learn more about the mental health of children can sign up for Newport Mental Health’s Virtual Mental Health First Aid for Parents (Adults Assisting Youth). This course will become available in August in the evenings before the opening of school.

Parents, concerned about their own mental health, can reach out to us, too. Newport Mental Health is currently accepting new clients. Call us to sign up for the Mental Health First Aid course or to make an appointment. 401-846-1213.

And remember, no matter what shape returning-to-school takes this year, it is important to keep those rituals and routines. Back-to-school shopping needs to be at the top of your list.


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