Mental Health Help for Kids and Families in Crisis

Macomb Intermediate School District's school safety and student assistance consultant offers advice for families coping with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Families are still reeling from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. While restrictions are slowly being lifted here in Michigan, residents have a long way to go before reaching a sense of normalcy — and many realize that things might never be the same.

With so much uncertainty about school in the fall, job security and overall health, this crisis has taken its toll on the mental health of people of all ages.

“This is an unpredictable situation that is scary and unprecedented,” says Nancy Buyle, school safety and student assistance consultant with the Macomb Intermediate School District. Buyle, a licensed professional counselor, and certified trauma consultant, is no stranger to the impact that a crisis can have on families.

A wide range of reactions

Because of the pandemic, Buyle says people are experiencing a number of reactions ranging from emotional to cognitive to behavioral and physical. Emotional reactions include fear, anxiety, grief, anger, irritability, isolation, overwhelm, powerlessness and more. Meanwhile,lowered attention span, memory problems, confusion, suspiciousness and difficulty concentrating, making decisions or solving problems are just a few possible cognitive reactions.

And those with behavioral reactions may experience withdrawal, sleep disturbances, crying, excessive silence and changes in activity, social interaction and eating habits. Some may also experience lowered immunity, headaches, stomachaches, fatigue, inability to relax or feeling “keyed up” or “edgy.”

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“I think some of the concerning behaviors to be on the lookout for are isolation, withdrawal, difficulty eating and sleeping,” Buyle says. “Let’s not forget that thinking about suicide may be something that a youth is struggling with and often in a very quiet/silent way.”

She adds, “Any significant change to expected behavior is something worth finding a good time to have a non-confrontational conversation about.”

This time isn’t easy for parents or their children, but there is hope when it comes to adjusting to the new normal. Here, Buyle offers advice for families.

Coping with constant change

With every press conference that Gov. Gretchen Whitmer hosts, another change in the plan is announced — and that alone can cause stress. Top that off with balancing working from home, virtual learning and all the other shifts brought on by the coronavirus and you’ve got a recipe for emotional disaster.

By now, you and your family likely have your own routine set; however, “this may be a good time to assess the effectiveness of those new routines and make an adjustment,” Buyle says.

Be sure to have a regular dinner time, family activity time — both indoors and outdoors — and even some alone time.

“Help ensure that the child is not isolating,” she says. “Alone time is good for recharging and resetting our emotions, but too much time alone may lend itself to ruminating thoughts that may increase feelings of distress and despair.”

Be accepting of emotions. Kids — and parents — are feeling a number of emotions, but try not to personalize anger or other negative feelings. If your child is showing signs of anger or frustration, listen to your child and be supportive and encouraging, she notes.

Get some sun. “Please remember to get your kids some sunlight,” she says. Research shows that fresh air, sunshine and green trees helps to elevate person’s mood, so getting outside is essential for both kids and adults.

Limit exposure to TV. All the COVID-19 coverage can be stressful for adults, so imagine how your children are feeling. Unplug when you can and limit the time you watch TV news. In general, do your best to ensure your children are not overexposed to news coverage.

Switch the narrative. It’s important to remember that not every person who contracted COVID-19 died from it. Teach your children to focus on resilience, Buyle says. Take opportunities to be together with your loved ones or enjoy a visit with a friend with proper social distancing.

Ongoing transitions

“Everyone has been staying home to stay safe some may even say feeling locked down and we have settled into a new normal; we have set our routines,” Buyle says. “We have settled into a new way of running our family and doing things.”

As things open back up, you and your children will experience a similar disorientation or unsettling feelings because things will change again — but, again, there is hope.

“It would be helpful if we switch the narrative to how many people recovered, got it and walked through it,” she says. “It will help us be less anxious.”

For more information on the Macomb Intermediate School District, visit misd.net.

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