Sunday, March 15, 2020

Coping with covid-19: It's important to maintain mental and behavioral health, especially among children, experts say

Sandra Wilson logged into a school-supplied iPad at Klondike Elementary in Louisville. Students are getting lessons remotely while not attending school. (Courier Journal photo by Michael Clevenger)
By Al Cross
Kentucky Health News

The covid-19 disease and the coronavirus that causes it have caused much uncertainty: How long will it last? How bad will it get? What do I need to do to protect myself, my loved ones and my neighbors?

"The most difficult thing about this is uncertainty, and uncertainty leads to anxiety," Dr. Allen Brenzel, the Department of Behavioral Health medical director, said at Gov. Andy Beshear's Saturday afternoon press conference.

Anxiety isn't all bad, Brenzel said: It can make us pay attention and do things, but "We have to be careful not to be overwhelmed by our anxiety." He offered suggestions:
  • Get information from reliable sources.
  • "Don't over-expose yourself to too much information." Take a break from social media and online searches "to try to live your life."
  • "Preserve your routine as much as possible."
  • Take care of your basic health, to remain resistant to disease: practice social distancing, get enough sleep and exercise, preferably outdoors.
  • While social distancing is important, don't become isolated. "Being together is really important for us to reduce our anxiety."
  • Look for other ways to reduce stress, and if you get overwhelmed, get help.
"Mental health is going to be critically important in getting through this," Beshear said Sunday.

Children deserve special attention. "The onslaught of information about covid-19 can be overwhelming even for grown-ups. For the newest generation, plugged in nearly 24/7, it can be downright frightening," writes Mandy McLaren of the Louisville Courier Journal.

For example, children may see events in other countries and think those things are happening in their locality, Brenzel said. "Limiting media contact for children can be very, very important," he said.

McLaren quotes Sandra Wilson, a Louisville nine-year old who turns on the TV for news updates as soon as she wakes up": "I'm really scared ‘cause I really don't want to die."

Brenzel said parents should help children "feel comfortable asking questions," and give answers that are age-appropriate -- and don't mislead or lie, to maintain trust.

McClatchy Co. newspapers, including the Lexington Herald-Leader, published a story saying essentially that, and giving details.

Parents first need to take care of themselves, so they can properly care for kids, Brenzel said, and "model things they need to do," such as washing hands and keeping distance.

"Studies confirm that looking at adorable
animals is good for your health," says the
Cincinnati Zoo, showing this red panda.
With schools closed and children separated from friends and social supports, he said, parents should find ways to help them interact, perhaps online. For example, the Cincinnati Zoo says it is starting a "Home Safari Facebook Live each weekday at 3 p.m. ET where we will highlight one of our amazing animals and include an activity you can do from home."

And if parents see behavioral changes in their children, they should seek advice from mental-health professionals, Brenzel said.

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