Number of kids struggling with mental health surges since start of new school year

Published: Oct. 12, 2020 at 4:57 PM CDT
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GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) - If you’re among the masses juggling work from home, parenting and virtual school all at once, Lisa Tutskey is talking to you.

“The motto is... let’s all just do the best we can, and it just has to be good enough,” says Tutskey, a Prevea Health licensed marriage and family therapist.

That might be just what everyone, especially parents and children, needs to hear right now.

This school year has definitely been unlike any other, and the last few weeks have proven to be the most challenging.

That’s driving a sharp and sudden increase in the number of kids seeking help from mental health professionals.

“First thing is just to recognize this is hard for everybody, and that we need to give a little bit of grace to ourselves and to our kids,” says Tutskey. “Some days they might do really well. They’re really going to rock that online learning, and other days might be harder.”

The last several weeks, Tutskey, like many other mental health professionals, has seen a sudden surge in families seeking help to deal with anxiety, depression and a whole lot of new emotions and feelings in kids brought on by a pandemic that took away everything that is normal to them.

Just when they were getting into a groove with in-person classes or a hybrid, it changed again, throwing kids and their whole families into a tailspin, feeling like they’d just lost something so important.

“We like structure, routine, consistency, and there is nothing about our current world that feels normal,” says Tutskey.

She says not having ‘normal’ can cause anxiety.

“This school year is just going to look different. It’s okay if your child misses turning in an assignment. We can give our kids grace, and ourselves grace as well in that. This is a year where we all get to do the best we can, but it’s going to certainly be less than perfect, and we’re going to learn as we go.”

She says anxiety can be compounded when you throw in seven hours of screen time, plus videos not playing, live meets freezing and microphones not muting.

Kids can get irritated easily with sensory overload.

“When those things happen, we feel frustrated because we often feel kind of embarrassed... Oh! It’s just me. It’s not just you. Lots of kids are experiencing the same technological struggles. Get up, walk away, take a break, come back to it,” she suggests. “If they can’t figure it out and the day is lost, that’s okay. They are not the only to say I couldn’t figure it out. I’ll try again tomorrow. Schools have been wonderful and understanding about those things.”

Tutskey says with all that computer time, it’s common for kids to say they’re exhausted, but still be hyper.

She says it’s essential kids have physical activity or non-electronics time, like cooking or playing board games.

If you notice new behaviors, loss of appetite or sleep changes lasting more than a week or two, Tutskey says it might be time to talk to a professional.

But for everyone she has this reminder:

“We live in this world of perfect. Everybody’s striving to be the best and get everything done and it all has to look a certain way, and we’re not in that world right now. This is just... it has to be good enough, and everybody’s good enough is going to look different,” adds Tutskey.

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