Pandemic-related stress leading to more anxiety in children, expert says
BELL COUNTY, Texas (KWTX) - The Children’s Hospital Association reports a 15 percent increase in children being hospitalized this year because of mental health issues and some psychologists are pointing to constant stress related to the pandemic.
Experts say that stress - combined with anxiety most children have never experienced before - may be causing children to act out in various ways.
“Kids are trying to get back into what we consider normal,” said Lynn Verrego, a school counselor with Killeen ISD. “We’re not really where we are as far as what normal was two years ago.”
Verrego has noticed more students dealing with mental health issues this year.
In dealing with something new, she says, children will typically have trouble verbalizing their emotions. Sometimes the child may appear to withdraw themselves from others or act out with aggression.
“Understand that sometimes if they’re being a jerk, it’s not because they’re a jerk. It’s because they’re upset,” said Sam Fiala, the chair of counseling and psychology at Texas A&M - Central Texas. “Having emotional stress and they don’t know how to communicate it.”
Some administrators with area school districts are taking notice and using sensitive approaches when dealing with behavioral issues. Ariel Woods, an assistant principal with KISD’s Pat Carney Elementary School, said she now often teams up with Verrego.
“It almost, more-so, becomes into a counseling session,” Woods said. “Because we have to understand where they’re coming from and help them learn those coping mechanisms that maybe they just haven’t been able to learn yet.”
Fiala said it is important for parents to speak directly to children about their feelings, especially, if they notice sudden changes in a child’s behavior.
“There’s a temptation to say, ‘oh it’s all in your head,’” Fiala said. “Well yeah, but ‘in your head’ is important and that’s still very real.”
Looking ahead, KISD will have a mental awareness fair for a third year.
The idea is to showcase district and local resources available to anyone for any kind of mental health issue.
The fair takes place from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday inside the Jackson Professional Learning Center at 902 Rev. R.A. Abercrombie Drive.
“Everyone needs support because we’ve all been involved in this,” Verrego said. “It’s been a global pandemic and each element has been affected.”
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