By Julie Kish
As Covid-19 continues to limit our lives and the news overwhelms us with frightening information, we need to be alert for signs of depression in our children.
A certain amount of sadness, disappointment and fear makes sense. Kids have to cope with school closures, cancelled activities, the inability to socialize and the loss of a normal routine. So, how does a parent know if their child is genuinely struggling?
Depression in youth can look very different from depression in adults. Irritability, rather than sadness, is often the predominant mood. A depressed teenager may be grumpy, hostile, easily frustrated, or prone to angry outbursts. Depressed youth are more likely to complain about physical ailments, such as headaches or stomachaches. They are also more likely to be overly sensitive to criticism.
Social isolation is a symptom of a mental health struggle, but parents could overlook this sign during a time of forced social distancing. Difficulty with concentration and a decrease in school performance are also symptoms of depression but could result from the switch to online learning.
According to Laura Boyko, MSW, RSW, from the Core Therapy and Assessment Centre, “Help isn’t always through professionals but can often be from teachers, family, and friends. Social distancing and online schooling keep youth from their natural and normal access to help, which is a huge concern. Friends are a big part of youth’s lives and without the usual social scene; they have limited options to work out interpersonal concerns.”
She says, “The best way a parent can help is to stay connected. Let them know you have similar feelings, and they are not alone in how they are feeling.” Using mindfulness techniques and participating in outdoor activities with them is good for kids and parents.”
- Try to ensure they have enough sleep, nutritional food and daily exercise.
- Encourage them to stay connected to friends with daily virtual face-to-face contact
- Maintaining a schedule reduces uncertainty and creates normalcy
- Encourage new hobbies such as baking or indoor gardening
- Encourage them to have something to look forward to every day (e.g., game night, movie night, pizza night, a virtual Netflix party, etc.)
“If you notice a major change in their eating, sleeping or usual habits that might indicate they are struggling with their mental health, reach out to your family doctor,” says Boyko.
Strides Toronto (Formerly East Metro Youth Services & Aisling Discoveries Child & Family Centre) provides youth services through What’s Up Virtual Walk-in Clinic. Youth up to the age of twenty-nine can have a mental health counselling session by telephone, Monday – Friday, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Parents can also call to talk about their children or parenting-related issues. (1-866-585-6486)
There is also the Kids Help Phone, which offers support by text or phone. (1-800-668-6868 from 7 a.m. to midnight) They also have tips to help youth cope during Covid-19 on their website. (www.kidshelpphone.ca)
Check out Coping During Covid-19: A Resource for Youth for more tips. (www.camh.ca)
Kids who are struggling may not recognize their own symptoms. Parents can help by staying connected and providing their children with resources.