With the pandemic in full effect and COVID-19 cases going up with the second wave, health experts said that mental health issues have become heightened for many throughout Long Island, including children and adolescents.
Experts further suggest that many parents with children who are struggling with mental illnesses, are often unaware of how to help their children.
On Tuesday November 10 the “Herald Inside Long Island,” held a free live Zoom webinar at 7 p.m. feauturing health providers and schools administrators who discussed ways in which long islanders can provide support to their school-aged children when they are experiencing a mental health crisis.
“My advice to parents is to talk to your kids by asking them how they are feeling and they should also ask their children what they expect with winter approaching and the uptick in COVID-19 cases,” said Dr. Vera Feuer, a pediatric emergency psychiatrist and the director of emergency psychiatry at Long Island Jewish Medical Center. “We also have to model to our kids healthy ways of coping in order to teach them that even though they might not be able to do everything the way they did before the pandemic, they can still be [mentally] healthy.”
Oftentimes, Feuer said, when children have mental illnesses and their parents bring them to receive counseling, the children might think they are in trouble or that they did something wrong that deserves punishment. In order to help eliminate that mental health stigma among many children, Feuer suggested to viewers that they maintain regular family dialogue, in which parents provide answers to questions their children might have about why they need counseling.
Also, involved in the Zoom discussion, was Dr. Jeffrey Reynolds, (Ph.D, CEAP, SAP), who is the President and chief executive officer of Family & Children’s Association (FCA), based in Mineola. He suggested that parents can help their children who struggle with mental illnesses that are further exacerbated by the pandemic, through guiding their children to have structure and order in their lives, as well as, communication with adults.
“Parents should keep a routine for their children, even though their children might be experiencing a loss of loved ones, loss of normalcy and not seeing their friends as often,” Reynolds said, adding that parents should also help kids identify and put a name on their emotions. “I’m the kind of parent that thinks my children should not have complete privacy because parents should maintain consistent dialogue with their kids and they should rally around their kids when they are in crisis.”
In order to understand the gravity of mental health issues being at an all time high, former Rockville Center school district superintendent, Dr. William Johnson, who is the current monitor for the Hempstead Union Free School District said, teachers and administrators at schools should be working in a partnership with parents, as a team to help children that are struggling.
“We can develop healthy children, if we involve them in routines and make time for them and when we witness disturbing changes in children, we as the schools, should be the first to know,” he said.
“Every kid has a different temperament and it will come out with the tremendous stresses that are at an all time high right now and there are many pent up emotions that are becoming visible,” added, Dr. Charles Schleien, the senior vice president and chair of pediatric services at Northwell Health.
New York State Senator, Todd Kaminsky, who also participated in the Zoom conversation, said that as a father of two children who are five and two years old, mental illness has not yet affected them, in the same way that it might impact teenagers. However, he still stressed the importance of reaching children from younger ages with mental health services in schools.
“I’m excited for mental health school based services to be expanded because there are many schools that don’t have this and this should be a priority,” Kaminsky said. “I plan to arrange to have mental health programs added to more schools through budget funding because the state should want to invest in this and step up and put their money where their mouth is.”
Herald Inside LI is a weekly webinar series. To view a recording of this webinar and to register for future ones, visit liherald.com/insideli.