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Children are developing post-traumatic stress from pandemic lockdowns.

We’re in day two hundred and something of “15 days to flatten the curve” and most of the country, especially heavily populated areas are still in very restrictive lockdowns. Most of the public schools are either not in session or they are working from online learning platforms. The World Economic Forum called this “…the world’s biggest psychological experiment”. Highlighting that some 2.6 billion people around the world were in some kind of lockdown (Link). In June of this year, the BBC ran a story that highlighted how children are developing serious mental health conditions, thanks to the daily consumption of what I call “panic porn” coming from the news media. Many of these children are struggling with:

  • Anxiety – being worried about a loved one’s health or fearing for their own.

  • Depression – being socially isolated, not being able to visit loved ones that may be in nursing homes, in the hospital, weddings, funerals, or even birthday parties.

  • Heightened fear – many children are experiencing vivid nightmares about coronavirus and death and the possible loss of their parents or friends. Being exposed to the daily global and local infection rate or death toll data is feeding this fear.

  • Learning Deficits – many underprivileged children lack access to the internet, computers, etc. and are falling behind. Not to mention the extra help these children often receive in the face to the face classroom environment.

  • Aggravated or worsening medical and mental health conditions – many appointments to manage pre-existing conditions or mental health disorders have been put off or canceled due to the ongoing crisis. Staffing limitations, a lack of access to telemedicine, and just outright fear have been noted as causes for these delays. Even the ones that have access to telemedicine, for mental health treatment can be more challenging and limited.

  • Moral injury – defined by UCSF as “… defined as the psychosocial and spiritual burden caused by any act that goes against one’s own or shared morals and values.” This can look like guilt, shame, demoralization, or even self-punishing behaviors due to things like “survivor’s guilt”, not being able to visit someone at the hospital before they died, seeing someone else suffer due to a lack of resources. This historically was only seen in combat medics and medical personnel who were unable to save patients or had to allocate resources based on need.

  • Anger/irritability

  • Emotional exhaustion

Current statistics indicate that during this crisis some of the following troubling situations have also increased:

  • Divorce rates increased by 34% (Link)

  • Suicide and suicide ideation rates are on the rise (Link)

  • Job losses are impacting incomes and people’s abilities to stay in their homes.

  • Domestic violence rates (spouse abuse and child abuse)(Link)

  • As many as 60% of businesses that have closed will stay closed (Link)

The mental health teams at UCSF have put forward some great resources on how to address some of this and I’ll admit that some of their recommendations are pretty common sense based but they still serve as good reminders. We can’t fix everything folks so please don’t try to take on all of the world’s problems. Start small, pick one thing that you can start to work on, and go from there. We are all in this together.

  • Stay physically safe from the virus. Don’t laugh, there are some people that have been known to take on some pretty risky behaviors during this time period but let’s stick to the basics and things that you can model in the home or classroom for the benefit of all and not just during this crisis

  • Wash your hands frequently – children will follow your example and taking the time to show them good hand washing techniques will help them fight off flu, and all kinds of other bugs later on. Try to make it fun, add a song, or something of that nature to make it seem like less of a chore. Most people recommend things like the Alphabet Song or Happy Birthday.

  • Go for walks or find other calming activities outdoors to engage in when possible – remember “social distancing” really means “physical distancing” and this is something that sometimes gets confused. Getting out and getting some fresh air can really help general morale.

  • Get and provide comforting, social support by video, phone, or text – practice your “zoom” skills, use Skype, Facetime, and just share some happy moments with people. For kids, there is even a Facebook Messenger that is just for them that you can monitor as a parent.

  • Create new routines that help you practice positive behaviors. Pray, read, meditate, work out, etc. Do it on a schedule and consider having the kids join in too. They need the structure to help them feel safe and secure in their environment. And physical exercise is good for everybody.

  • Limit the “panic porn” – find ways to limit the news that your kiddos are exposed to. Help them find entertainment that is uplifting. Turn the news off and consider turning the music on. By limiting their exposure to all of the negativity it will help them gradually start to focus on more of the positive things in life.

  • Eat well – Another “duh” I know, but it's amazing to see how many people have allowed their eating habits to get even worse even though they are eating at home. Stress makes many of us seek comfort foods that are usually high in carbs and sugars. Several studies have shown that sugar has a similar effect on the brain as cocaine (Link) So imagine if you will that you have been feeding yourself and your kiddos lots of sugary stuff and then you run out. It’s not quite like watching a crack addict looking for a fix but you can certainly expect the kiddos and yourself to experience the temporary boost in mood and the crash afterward a little while after consumption. By making substitutions for healthier options, you will start to improve mood stabilization and see far fewer “crashes”.

For more great ideas from the UCSF team check out their link here.

We will continue to put more resources and tools on our site but if you are in need of some great books or ideas in a hurry check out our resource page. Remember that many kiddos from hard places are already suffering from the effects of early childhood trauma, so this recent pandemic can magnify the trauma brain and these kiddos need extra support, gentleness, and structure in their environment. Together we can (and will) get through this. Be patient with each other and breathe.

Dr. Scott Hollis MLS(ASCP), SPHR, SHRM-SCP and Joanna Hollis RN, BSN, LMT

"Being trauma-informed starts with a conversation!"


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