CHILDREN: PANDEMIC-RELATED ANXIETY & DEPRESSION

Childhood and teen depression aren’t often spoken about because we tend to think of childhood as a time of play, fun, exploration and innocence – and so it should be. But many of us have lost people we knew and loved to Covid and the pandemic has taken its toll on everyone including teens, tweens and youngsters. They are particularly vulnerable because they haven’t developed adequate coping skills yet. Peer contact and approval matters very much for normal development of this age group and not having contact with their peers can create feelings of isolation and loneliness. Plus, due to the COVID-19 vulnerability of older caregivers or grandparents, they have been separated from children who depend on them emotionally and physically. Ongoing stress, separation, fear, grief, isolation and uncertainty created by COVID-19 pandemic can lead to issues with anxiety as well as depression.

Now, with COVID-19 vaccines, there is growing hope that this pandemic may finally ease off and end. Schools will soon reopen fully and life will continue but we will have to readjust to the new norms. This does not mean we will forget about the struggles and losses that the pandemic has brought about. During times of change, it is even more important than ever to check in with your children often and watch and listen for any signs they might be struggling with fears and concerns. Children may not always be able to tell you what’s wrong – some hold feelings inside and others are just too young.

This is the time to remember that your pediatrician is here to help. Keeping regular visits allow your pediatrician the opportunity to assess any signs of depression or anxiety so help can be provided quickly. Parents who also suspect it at any time should schedule an appointment immediately.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that parents of teens:

  • Check in with their teen often to discuss how they’re feeling and watch for signs of mental health struggles.
  • It’s important to offer your teen some privacy to talk with the pediatrician to ensure they have the chance to speak as openly as possible.  Some may need to talk to a trusted adult (not their parent) about how to keep up social connections safely, or about their feelings of boredom, loss and
    even guilt if they have sometimes not kept up safe physical distancing or guilt about how they dealt with the death of someone close to them.
  • It’s important for parents to set the tone by trying to stay positive and relaying consistent messages that a brighter future lies ahead. Keep lines of communication open.

Some signs that a teen may need more support are:

  • changes in mood that are not usual for your child, such as ongoing irritability, rage or frequent conflict with friends and family
  • changes in behavior, such as stepping back from personal relationships and a lack of interest activities they used to enjoy
  • difficulties sleeping or wanting to sleep all the time,
  • changes in weight or eating patterns, such as never being hungry or eating all the time
  • problems with memory, thinking or concentration
  • changes in appearance, such as lack of basic personal hygiene (within reason, since many are doing
    slightly less grooming during this time at home), and
  • an increase in risky or reckless behaviors, such as using drugs or alcohol or talking about death or suicide. 

Infants and young children may display stress in a different manner. They may

  • regress by acting younger than their chronological age or lose skills they have attained (bedwetting after being potty trained),  
  • be more fussy or irritable or have a change in sleep patterns,
  • have a change in eating habits, spitting up more or complaints of stomach pain out of nowhere,
  • have increased separation anxiety beyond what is normal for their age, and
  • begin hitting, biting and having increased, intense tantrums.

Regardless of the age of your child, the importance of making and keeping appointments with their pediatricians is critical – especially now. They can help your children deal with grief and separations caused by the pandemic and will work with you, the parent, to provide help about ways to best support your child.

Remember, pediatricians are important to the development and overall functioning of your children.

Of course, if a child/teen is talking about suicide, call 911 or 1-800-273-TALK to speak to a trained professional immediately or text TALK to 741741. 

Luis Velasquez, MD FAAP

Director of Pediatrics

Joseph P. Addabbo Family Health Center

718-945-7150

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