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AMY SMITH: Your child’s mental health: Support for the return to school (column)

Amy Smith

Amy Smith

The start of a new school year is stressful, and this year it is even more so with students being out of school longer than usual.  

The recent pandemic has caused those with existing mental disorders to worsen, and we have seen mental issues begin in individuals who have never before experienced them.   

Children draw their emotions from the adults in their life, so make sure that you are modeling the behavior you want to see displayed. Limit their contact to news, and make sure that they don’t overhear inappropriate adult conversations. They are always listening, even when you don’t think they are. 

Talk to your children openly and honestly about their feelings regarding returning to school.   

As adults, we tend to overanalyze things, and often the questions children have are not the same questions as we anticipate them having. Answer their questions as simply as possible. Make sure they understand proper hygiene and the role it plays in the transmission of the coronavirus. Reassure them that adults are taking precautions to keep them safe.  

Look for these signs in your children. Are they more withdrawn than normal?  Have they lost interest in their normal activities? Are they still keeping in touch with friends? Do they seem sad most of the time?  

If you notice any reason for concern, do not hesitate to contact a mental health provider.  

School systems in Alabama will soon be giving parents an option whether to do school virtually or return to traditional schoolhouse learning. When making this decision there are lots of factors to consider.  

Does your child have a pre-existing medical condition that places him/her at high risk if they contract COVID-19? Do you have adequate supervision for them if you and your household members work outside the home? How did they perform academically during the quarantine period? Do you have reliable internet access and devices to complete assignments on? Is a member of your household in a high-risk area?  

Regardless of what you decide, the decision is a personal one and should be made in the best interest of your child. Don’t feel guilty or let anyone make you feel bad about what you decide.    

If you choose a traditional educational route for your child, you should be prepared in the event of another shutdown. Make sure that you have access to the internet and obtain a reliable device if your school does not provide one for you.  

While there are many emergency mental health hotlines, if you or someone you care about is having thoughts of suicide, call 911 for immediate help.

Some of the reputable 24-hour mental health hotlines that can provide you with support, education, and resources include:

  • Mental Health America Hotline: Text MHA to 741741. Mental Health America is a nationwide organization that provides assistance through this text line. You will be linked to someone who can guide you through a crisis or just provide information.

  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255. Crisis intervention and free emotional support are available, which is helpful when you need confidential assistance during a time of emotional distress for you or a loved one. The helpline is open 24/7, and a live online chat is available as well.

  • Crisis Text Line: Text CONNECT to 741741. Specialized crisis counselors are just a text message away on this free, confidential 24-hour support line. To further protect your privacy, these messages do not appear on a phone bill. The text line also provides services and support if you are upset, scared, hurt, frustrated or distressed.

Amy Smith is a counselor at Pell City High School and a former counselor in the Talladega City school system.