AUSTIN, Texas - "We are in it together" has been said a lot since the outbreak of COVID-19, but words of encouragement can also ring hollow.
"I think when all this started back in the Spring, In March, I think most of us thought, at least I know I did, I thought this is going to be a four to six-week process and we will all be back to normal,” said Karen Ranus with the National Alliance on Mental Illness or NAMI.
Normal now, according to Ranus, is learning to mentally cope in a COVID world. "Even the most mentally well and physically well person can experience some feelings of depression and anxiety,” she said.
Ranus noted that major past events like the attack on 9/11 and Hurricane Harvey triggered widespread depression, but with COVID, the grief of what’s been lost is worldwide. "It’s important to recognize that, we are all having this collective experience,” she said.
Get breaking news alerts in the FOX 7 Austin News app. It is FREE!
Reconnecting, Ranus admits, can be frustrating when community contact is discouraged. "What we are really being challenged to, right now, is to think creatively about how to stay connected,” she said.
People are social animals and Ranus believes the term “social distancing” should be replaced with “physical distancing”, which could encourage, and not discourage, staying connected.
"We need to do more than just phone calls and texts because there is something really important about seeing each other's body language and seeing a smile, that can be really helpful, so we know there's a lot of folks getting creative around this, gathering with people out on their front yard, or driveway where they are maintaining the physical distance but are still having that chance to see each other and see the body language,” said Ranus.
Trying to wait it out is not a good option, and Ranus said do not delay getting help. "I don’t think you should wait more than 2 weeks,” she said.
Between March and June calls, increased by 65% to a NAMI hotline. The alliance has also teamed up with google with an online self-assessment questionnaire. It’s activated with searches about anxiety, and once completed, provides links to resources offered by the alliance.
Children can also have anxiety about COVID-19. Dr. Puja Patel with Dell Children's Hospital said it's okay for kids to be sad or bored, but if they are sad or worried all the time and no longer enjoying the activities they usually do, it might be time to seek additional support.
"I think where you might start to notice is, they can’t find anything that is fun, and maybe if they, are really, are feeling like nothing is enjoyable. They (Parents) are not noticing any smiles during the day, and they (kids) look sad all of the time, then I would start to worry,” said Dr. Patel.
A change in sleep patterns or appetite is also among the red flags.
Addressing the problem starts by talking about it. "And when you are talking to your kids about COVID share the faces but keep it simple,” said Dr. Patel.
At some point, a parent will have to shift from talking it out with their child to getting professional help.
"When those things don’t feel like they are helping the child feel better, or the child is not getting relief, in a day or whole day, if you are not getting relief, from that sadness, or that anxiety think that’s a good sign you need to talk to your pediatrician about getting some more help or figuring out the next step,” said Dr. Patel.
Dr. Patel says parents should talk with their kids about their feelings and validate that it's hard, and get creative about things they can do. Parents should also know that it's normal to feel stressed, sad, and worried for everyone, even kids.
Parents can try some of the following to help their kids through the pandemic:
- Create routines where possible
- Empower kids with ways they are helping themselves and their bodies be safe
- Connect with others in ways that are safe for your family-
- Find things you “can do” with family and friends
- Take care of yourself as the parent- model for your kids how to handle this difficult time
FOX 7 Austin is working to keep you up to date with coronavirus, with both local and national developments. You can also get the latest COVID-19 news from around the country at coronavirusnow.com.