COLORADO SPRINGS — In this Your Healthy Family, we are talking about the ever-evolving world our children are living in and the challenges it presents for their mental health. As we continue to see COVID-19 mandates and restrictions lifted here in Colorado and across the country, most people - especially older kids and adults - see it as a welcome sign that things are returning to something closer to what was normal before 2020.
But for younger children, it may not be as easy. Dr. Kathy Sigda, a licensed clinical psychologist who provides services to children and adolescents at UCHealth Mountain Crest Behavioral Health in Fort Collins, is concerned about the mental health of all children as the pandemic approaches its two-year mark.
Dr. Sigda says, “We talk to kids every day - particularly younger children who have difficulty remembering what life was like before the pandemic. Two years into the pandemic we are seeing rates of anxiety continue to skyrocket. It just hasn’t seemed to settle down at all. Our thinking is that just because the masks can come off, that doesn't mean that the stress and anxiety (for kids) goes away.”
It’s a continuing path of what Dr. Sigda and her colleagues saw when lockdowns were initially put in place as the pandemic was emerging in early 2020. “All these parents were calling saying their kids were having meltdowns and temper tantrums and not going to sleep at night and crying all the time. There was a huge amount of anxiety in young children.”
While kids are resilient, it's important for parents to be aware of the journey they may have to take, as we all make another big change in social behaviors.
Dr. Sigda says, “As adults we can look at the big picture and think ahead to the future. We can even use our past experiences to inform us on what the future may look like. Kids are very ‘here and now’ focused, and so if yesterday was a stressful day then today they likely wake up with a level of stress and anxiety. I think it's really important for parents - while we can let down our guard a little bit and take that collective deep breath and feel like we are getting back to normal - we have to recognize our children may not be there yet.”
Support and guidance may also be needed to help kids feel safe when going back to school without masks and the other rules that were in place. “We have seen a lot of kids with symptoms of obsessive compulsive disorder. They need to wash their hands over and over and they're really scared of germs and they're worried about that. Why wouldn't they be? We've been telling them for the last two years to be really worried about viruses,” says Dr. Sigda.
Even for some adults, readjusting to another new normal might be a real challenge, and it’s important to remember there are lots of resources available to provide support when it comes to mental health and making these changes in our lives.
In our next story, Dr. Sigda will talk about how the current shortage of mental health providers is proving to be another pandemic challenge, as well as a new free resource UCHealth has in place right now for parents and kids [uchealth.org]. (https://www.uchealth.org/today/covid-19-stress-in-kids-videos-mental-health-tools/ [uchealth.org])
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