BALTIMORE — It's been months since the start of the pandemic and so much is still unknown, causing many people to feel anxious or stressed. With most students heading into another virtual semester, there are concerns about their mental health.
Dr. Anthony Chico, the Medical Director of Emergency Psychiatry at GBMC, said while most children are having similar feelings about not having that social interaction, their needs are different based on their development.
The biggest thing lost for students with virtual learning is that social interaction, whether it's a high five in the hallway or a chat with a friend at lunch. For younger kids, this time is crucial for their development since they're learning communication skills. Dr. Chico said, "we lose that opportunity for children to have that richness of socialization. It’s going to be harder to communicate in a free flowing way."
Plus, add the masks. Right now is a hard time for everyone to communicate, relying on eye contact and muffled voices.
For older kids, they're missing out on big milestones, like dances or sporting events.
"School traditions, activities is a way to feel connected with our peers and when you don’t have that you feel lost," said Dr. Chico. He added, "I think as teenagers it’s a time in our lives that we’re trying to define ourselves, trying to identify what direction we want to move in and that’s defined by the friends that we keep and the activities we participate in so when we’re robbed of those experiences, those benchmarks aren’t there so without that structure and anticipation of how the days structured or how the years going to be structured that causes anxiety."
This time can be especially difficult for students transitioning into the next level of education so people going into middle or high school. "They don't have that pre-existing infrastructure," explained Dr. Chico. He stressed how many students are trying to hold onto the relationships they made last fall and this time can be easier for them since they already have those developed relationships with classmates or teammates. Even though it's difficult, he encourages kids to reach out to neighbors or friends and be creative with virtual visits.
The best way to deal with these challenges is to have purpose, to fight the uncertainty with structure. Dr. Chico recommends getting your child into a set rhythm and on a schedule, academic and social.
"That structure, that sense of purpose is a way to combat the sense of uncertainty that this pandemic has left all of us feeling. The uncertainty of how long it will last. The uncertainty of what’s next. So as long as they can maintain some structure I think we can fight that inherent anxiety people have developed," Dr. Chico expressed.
Also, pay close attention to your children, they may be struggling more than you think. If you notice any changes in mood or diet, talk with them or have them talk with someone they trust to help get them through this time.