In recognition of Mental Health Month in May, InsideNoVa hosted an online town hall on mental health with several professionals via Zoom webinar and on the website’s Facebook page Tuesday. The hour-long conversation addressed numerous effects the pandemic has on our routines, emotions and relationships, as well as ways to mitigate the negative effects for seniors, families and children.
Joining the panel were Lisa Madron, executive director at Prince William County Community Services; Dr. Richmond Hill, supervisor of secondary school counseling and student support services for Prince William County Public Schools; and Shruti Tewari, M.D., a psychiatrist at the Inova Kellar Center in Fairfax.
Now entering the third month of statewide stay-at-home orders, health experts say the isolation and confinement is taking a toll on mental health.
“Social distancing causes sadness, and routine actions like picking out clothes for the school day is not the same any more. Our boundaries at home are now disrupted,” Tewari said. “The things I look for in anxiety are changes in behavior. We get concerned about disrupting behavior and daily tantrums.”
Hill said that for students, “school is often an escape from what they experience at home. Now that they don’t have that opportunity, there is stress when they’re not able to come together.”
He added that parents wonder how much they should share about the pandemic with their children. “It’s important to share age-important information and how the parents are keeping them safe. We also have to be honest that there’s a lot we don’t know, but there are medical professionals doing everything they can to keep us safe.”
Madron, who works primarily with children, said it is not uncommon to see issues because of disruption, loss and grief. “A lot of the youth don’t know how they’re feeling. We’ve found that folks may be more irritable and they’re not usually that way, so the best advice for everyone is ‘be kind to yourself.’”
“Naming and owning our feelings are important,” Tewari said. “When you’re by yourself, the most important thing is self-care, or the well will run dry. Have some sort of routine, but not so much that it is wearing on you. Go ahead and accept invitations to Zoom groups, and make some time to get outside.”
When your circumstances start feeling chaotic and out of control, Madron advised to focus on what you can control.
“Look at your routines: eating, exercise and sleep. Exercise, as much as I hate it, can definitely elevate your mood,” Madron said. “Find a connection. Even if you’re not being reached, take the time to reach out to someone yourself, it makes a difference.”
For the elderly, home confinement can be quite isolating, so Tewari encouraged friends and family to set up weekly check-ins with older relatives, whether over the phone or driving by and chatting. You can also have the kids make cards for them and drop them off at the front door.
Many parents are beset by dual roles, working remotely from home while also home-schooling their children. Hill had encouraging words for parents who worry they are failing at the task.
“You’re not failing – this is an unprecedented time. Teachers understand that some parents will be more successful at this than others. When we finally do return to a traditional setting, we know there may be learning gaps, and school systems are sensitive to that. Speak with teachers to ask for help in teaching resources,” he said.
Madron said those moments are also perfect times for self-compassion, and suggested parents try online tools like Quizlet and YouTube for teaching help.
“I find that kids learn even without the constant oversight,” Tewari said. “It’s OK not to structure every second of the day. They will find opportunities to learn by themselves. Do what you can to support your child’s independent learning skills, so they can build the skills to organize, plan and execute.”
For those who are worried about returning to the workplace, Tewari said that is a valid anxiety.
“It’s about focusing on what you have control over: handwashing, wearing a mask, and avoiding large crowds offers control and risk analysis. We can talk to our kids about that as well. Things aren’t going to back to where it was.”
To watch a replay of the one-hour webinar, click here: https://zoom.us/rec/share/-ctKILbqziBITYWRsFvjcP4FRY3Aeaa80yZM-qBYz0qAyI4GI1HFva0LlFbjSwjW
For more information:
Prince William County Community Services:
SPAN resources for people in a crisis: http://www.suicidepreventionnva.org/
Tele-health resources (compiled by Prince William County Schools):
Crisis services for the developmentally disabled through REACH: