Preserving mental health during COVID-19

Preserving mental health during COVID-19

Dr Karla Hylton

Sunday, March 29, 2020

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We have entered uncharted territory with the COVID-19 pandemic. The consequences, whether directly or indirectly, are unprecedented and potentially devastating. As such, we must act swiftly to ensure that our children are coping with the onset of grave uncertainty.

The pause button on face-to-face teaching has been engaged and a new age of 'home schooling' has begun, which comes with its own set of adjustments and challenges. For one thing, it exposes the inequities in our society as many schools and homes lack the required tools to access a virtual platform.

Societal inequities aside, COVID-19 has left many of us adults feeling anxious, confused, isolated and scared. Imagine how much more elevated the stress level is among students and children and those who faced emotional and mental challenges prior to the pandemic! I implore parents, caregivers, friends and teachers to give extra time and attention to such students whether virtually or in person.

Even without COVID-19, stress, anxiety, depression, suicidal ideation and self-harm are on the rise among our young people. A public health emergency such as the one in which we currently find ourselves will definitely exacerbate these issues. Quarantine, isolation and social distancing, which are new concepts to most of us, added to imminent financial trials all compound emotional challenges.

We must take care of our own mental health and that of the children with whom we've been blessed. We must do for them that which is necessary to get them through. Here are some tips:

1. Limit news intake — While it is natural to want to stay in tune with what is happening in the world around you, too much of the same news can worsen depression. Limit how much news your child is watching, reading or listening to. Also, be sure that the news is from reliable sources. Remember that young people can sense the anxiety of their parents.

2. Stick to a routine — Children are home. You are probably home as well and so, the family may want to sleep in. This is fine, but do not overdo it. Remember school will reopen eventually. It's important to have a set wake-up and bedtime. Have a fixed time for lessons, exercise, play, meals, bath time etc. Routine and structure fosters positive mental health and emotional resilience.

3. Exercise — Physical movement has consistently been shown to promote good mental health. There are numerous activities that you can enjoy with your child at home. These include dancing, yoga, workouts from online sources, skipping rope, hula hooping, etc.

4. Talk to your children — It is important to explain to your child what is happening in a language that they can understand. Your support is essential at this time. If you are a health care worker, your reassurance must include how you are taking care of yourself as most children will worry about your safety. Remember that your child looks to you for guidance. Be sure not to panic. Teach your child positive preventative measures.

5. Maintain connections —Allow your children to connect socially using online resources. Allow them to call their friends, face time, use messenger services, etc. Social interaction aids good mental health.

6. Play games — Engage your children by playing board games, card games, dominoes, chess, among others. This is a great for passing the time and to further bond with your child.

7. Form a family book club - Depending on your child's age, you can read stories together and discuss. You can also download a novel, read separately and then have discussions, just like a book club.

8. Cook together — Make cooking a family affair. Try a new recipe and have children measure ingredients. Get them involved in setting the table. You could even do a family dress up night, or theme night where you dress nicely for family dinner according to the theme.

Let us use this pandemic to grow closer to our children. Remember that they are scared and anxious and need our help more than ever. Spend quality time with your children and this will surely help them mentally. School will reopen one day and life will return to normal. Keep the faith!

Dr Karla Hylton, UWI lecturer in biology, is the author of Yes! You Can Help Your Child Achieve Academic Success and Complete Chemistry for Caribbean High Schools . Reach her at (876) 564-1347, biochemtutor100@gmail.com or khylton.com


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