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Mental health takes center stage as the school year starts

‘Normal is not realistic’ as students head back into classrooms and social settings after disruption of pandemic lockdown and distance learning

MINNEAPOLIS – September 15, 2021 – Simone Biles’ mental health journey was very public. It’s less so for Minnesota children and teens feeling the pressure of worry, sadness and fear.

“Olympians, particularly those on Team USA, raised our collective awareness of mental health and the transformative power of seeking care and support,” says Jenny Britton, Director of Children and Family Services for Washburn Center for Children.

Children’s mental health was already a public health crisis in 2019, with an estimated 100,000 Minnesota kids suffering from untreated anxiety, depression and trauma before the pandemic. Now, after 20 months of stress created by COVID-19 and social unrest, our community’s mental health system is seeing an even more significant groundswell of need.

“It’s not realistic for us to think things will be normal. Kids haven’t had social interactions, schools haven’t been open and activities were cancelled. It is not the same as it was – and we need to help kids understand that it’s ok to not feel ok.”

Britton reminds caregivers there is no such thing as a perfect parent, teacher or coach. “As adults, we can be the stable and regulated supporter to help kids through the transitions and big feelings that will arise this fall. These three simple tips will help you find hope and strength.”

Three tips for “good enough” parenting
  1. Be playful, laugh.
  2. Ask for help when you need it – model what it looks like to be vulnerable and accept support.
  3. When disagreements happen (and they will), always repair. An adult saying, “I got mad and here’s how I am going to help us move forward” is a powerful lesson for children of all ages.

“We are living through universal trauma. Regardless of where we live, who we are, what we do for a living, or where we go to school, our entire community is impacted – especially our children,” she says.

Last year, the typical ‘safety nets’ to spot kids who needed mental health care were disrupted; adults like educators, caregivers and coaches were at a distance and signs may have been less evident.  As students settle into the routine of school, adults can watch for these signs that a child in their circle could use help and hope:

  • Change in behaviors – hesitancy in social situations or frequent feelings of anger, irritability
  • Difficulty holding attention – even during play
  • Change in how they communicate – becoming more quiet or withdrawn; acting out their feelings if they can’t find words
  • Challenges with sleeping, nightmares, hard time falling asleep