Anxiety in Teens and Kids
Since the first Covid-19 infection was reported in 2019, the world as we knew it ceased to exist. All across the world countries declared a state of emergency and forced billions of people into lockdown. Since then, much of our focus has been on the impact of this virus on our health, healthcare systems and economy.
Some of the measures put in place to curb the spread included closing schools and banning competitive sports. Social interactions were and to a certain extent, are still forbidden. When the schools reopened, the majority of children attended school every other day and spent break times practising social distancing from their peers.
This sudden change in the learning environment and limitation of social interaction as well as fear of losing their parents and loved ones, has given rise to a whole new separate pandemic of anxiety and depression amongst children and adolescents. Globally research is being done but the immediate and long term effects on children’s mental health is difficult to estimate currently. One thing we can say for sure is that we have seen an increase in these cases in our own practice over the past 20 months.
Some of these children are worried about the safety of their parents when they go out to the shops and others have already lost one or both of their parents. Many teenagers are experiencing a sense of loss of the social life they thought they would be having in their high school years.
It is normal to feel stressed about the current situation but when this stress becomes overwhelming it manifests in depression and anxiety. Unfortunately recognising anxiety and depression in children and adolescents is not easy.
Some signs of distress in children and adolescents are:
- Being withdrawn
- Acting out
- Dependent behaviour ( inappropriate for age)
- Physical complaints such as tummy aches and headaches
- Change in eating habits
- Change in sleeping pattern
- Substance abuse
What can you do if you suspect your child or teenager might be excessively distressed due to the Covid-19 pandemic?
- Talk openly to your child about the pandemic and empower them with accurate information because if you don’t, they will find information on social media which might distress them even more (or be completed false as we all have seen!)
- Emphasise that hand washing and mask wearing prevents the spread of Covid to others and keeps vulnerable people safe. Do not use scare tactics to get them to comply.
- Ask about their concerns and listen carefully. Do not minimise any of their concerns. Always answer honestly in a manner that does not instill fear.
- Maintain a consistent routine with scheduled activities
- Spend time outdoors! It greatly boosts the mood of both children and the parents (this should generally be a scheduled daily activity)
- Always remember that your children model your behaviour. If you react anxiously to a situation they perceive this as a normal reaction and will do the same. Ensure that you have healthy coping mechanisms for day to day stress.
- Lifestyle modification
- Encourage exercise as it is known to enhance the mood naturally, even more so if exercising outdoors.
- Nourish their bodies with a balanced, healthy diet. Remember over 90% of the body’s serotonin is produced by the bacteria in the gut, so nourish the gut.
Visit your doctor to help confirm the diagnosis. Discuss natural supplementation to support your child’s mood in the form of vitamins, minerals and herbal agents such as adaptogens. In certain instances after thorough evaluation your doctor might recommend the initiation of anti-depressants or anxiolytics and psychologist referral if indicated.
The point is, that there is a lot we can do to help the pandemic kids / teenagers but we have to be vigilant and not minimise the severity of the distress and seek help if their are any warning signs. We also need to put every effort in to make life as normal as we possibly can for their developing brains.
– Dr Nadine Stewart