A Storm to Weather

Modeling self-care to youth during a pandemic.

Posted Aug 20, 2020

Markus Spiske on StockSnap
Source: Markus Spiske on StockSnap

Self-care is always an imperative for healthy personal growth and happiness. Maybe especially for young people dealing with the challenges of building an identity, forging friendships with peers, and, eventually, achieving independence.

The global pandemic just made all of that harder.

While it’s not inappropriate to urge young people to practice self-care, many may have little idea what that actually means. The remedy? Modeling the behaviors you hope to inspire in them.

Indeed, according to a July 2020 article by Rebecca Clay for the American Psychological Association, “Self-care has never been more important ... Whether you’re a clinician, a researcher, or an educator, how can you care for yourself during this stressful time?” Clay quotes Heather Gebhardt, Ph.D., of the Veterans Affairs (VA) Care System in Seattle, who replies, “By doing all the things we recommend to our patients.” She and other psychologists offer this advice (Clay, 2020):

  • Prioritize …
  • Pivot, if necessary … 
  • Stick to a routine …
  • Create a separate workspace …
  • Don’t skimp on the basics … 
  • Stay connected … 
  • Limit news consumption. …
  • Practice mindfulness and other relaxation techniques …
  • Learn something new … 
  • Cut yourself some slack … 
  • Watch for signs of trouble in yourself …
  • Check in with colleagues, too …

Similar advice for professionals, especially for student mental health providers, suggested by Erin McClintock at Everfi, Erica Riba at The Jed Foundation, and Laura Horne at Active Minds, is also important to consider (McClintock et al, 2020):

Dear Student Mental Health Providers,

It is hard to believe that we are approaching a new academic year. What an unimaginable few months it has been. Months ago, you were going through your daily lives: meeting with students, convening with colleagues, commuting to and from work, and doing the best you could to make a difference at your workplace. Then, suddenly, the COVID-19 pandemic happened, and the world and its workings changed drastically.

You may have been thrust into abruptly transitioning to remote learning and telemental health … scrambling to figure out how you’d continue supporting the mental health needs of students at a time when it may be more critical than ever … And, as a counselor, your vocation may be front and center in your personal relationships more than it otherwise would be.

But sometimes, the person who has been there for everyone needs someone to be there for them. And your work is more important than ever. Your guidance, leadership, and expertise will help pave the way for student well-being and academic success during an unprecedented time in which the importance of mental health is unmistakable alongside physical wellness.

The following strategies are intended to support you in nourishing your mind, leveraging your expertise, and thinking strategically about how to best position the tremendous value that you bring to any room that you occupy.

  1. Embrace your role as a mental health convener …
  2. Know that you aren’t alone …
  3. Prioritize your own wellness …
  4. Remember your “why” …

So, what about the kids?

Here are some data from the Morgan Stanley Alliance for Youth Mental Health.

  • 1 in 5: The number of children suffering from mental illness
  • 41%: Increase in adolescent depression since 2006
  • 15%: Children in poverty who receive any form of mental health services

Alliance Chair Joan Steinberg, in her piece “Preventing Another Lost Generation,” says, “We cannot allow the coronavirus pandemic or the economic downturn it has caused to leave lasting emotional and mental scars on our younger generation … Today, we face a different life-threatening global crisis, yet one that could similarly threaten a new generation of youth. Based on what medical and public health experts have seen so far, children and adolescents seem physically more resilient to the ravages of COVID-19, but the effects on their mental health, now and in the long-term, could be profound …” (Steinberg, 2020).

In that spirit, Michelle Obama recently shared her “low-grade depression” as a result, in part, of the coronavirus. Why is that important?

A Healthline article, “Michelle Obama Talks ‘Low-Grade’ Depression During the Pandemic,” speaks to its importance. “Dr. John Zajecka, professor of psychiatry at Rush University Medical Center, says he feels it’s a ‘good thing’ when celebrities like Michelle Obama speak out about depression. ‘There are still misconceptions about it,’ he explains. ‘People believe that depression is a sign of weakness or that they “need to pull themselves up by their bootstraps …’” He says that when people like Michelle Obama, who are seen by the public as role models, speak about their own experiences, it can have ‘tremendous impact’ in educating the public and reducing the stigma surrounding mental health conditions” (Schimelpfening, 2020).

Also of help for youth may be an app offered by Total Brain, a collaborator at the Center for Adolescent Research and Education (CARE), through which young people (and their parents) can both monitor their cognitive functioning and mental health. And seek help, as needed.

Total Brain’s recent assessment of American workers reveals the effect of COVID-19 on adults. “Mental health in the United States has suffered since the COVID-19 outbreak began. Now, months into the pandemic, Americans are showing that they are settling into a state of heightened stress and tension” (Total Brain, 2020).

At the end of the day, perhaps the best we can do for kids is to offer a sense of hope. Newport Academy says, “As we might expect during a pandemic—coupled in this country with stark political division and civil unrest—young people aren’t particularly hopeful about their future right now. A survey released June 17, commissioned by National 4‑H Council and conducted by the Harris Poll, found that 70 percent of teens are struggling with their mental health. Furthermore, 65 percent of the 1,500 teens surveyed (ages 13–19) said that uncertainty about the future was making them anxious or depressed ...” (Newport Academy, 2020).

As we face an epidemic putting youth and adults at risk, we can keep in mind the following recommendation. “Be strong because things will get better. It might be stormy now but it can’t rain forever” (Thomas, 2019).

A storm to weather, indeed.

References

Clay, R. (2020). Self-care has never been more important. American Psychological Association. Vol. 51, No. 5. July 1, 2020. https://www.apa.org/monitor/2020/07/self-care (18 Aug. 2020).

McClintock, E., Riba, E. and L. Horne. A letter to student mental health providers. Thrive Global. July 30, 2020. https://thriveglobal.com/stories/a-letter-to-student-mental-health-providers/ (18 Aug. 2020).

Morgan Stanley Foundation. (2020). Mental health in children: an analysis. Morgan Stanley Alliance for Children’s Mental Health. February 3, 2020. https://www.morganstanley.com/articles/mental-illness-in-children--analysis-and-proposed-solutions (18 Aug. 2020).

Newport Academy. (2020). The connection between hope and mental health. Empowering Teens. Restoring Families. July 6, 2020. https://www.newportacademy.com/resources/mental-health/hope-and-mental-health/ (18 Aug. 2020).

PR Newswire. (2020). Total Brain partners with Center for Adolescent Research and Education (CARE) to address growing youth mental health crisis. Total Brain. May 5, 2020. https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/total-brain-partners-with-center-for-adolescent-research-and-education-care-to-address-growing-youth-mental-health-crisis-301052755.html  (18 Aug. 2020).

Schimelpfening, N. (2020). Michelle Obama talks ‘low-grade depression’ during the pandemic. Healthline. August 12, 2020. https://www.healthline.com/health-news/michelle-obama-talks-low-grade-depression-during-the-pandemic (18 Aug. 2020).

Steinberg, J. (2020). Preventing another lost generation. Morgan Stanley Foundation. July 8, 2020. https://www.morganstanley.com/articles/alliance-for-childrens-mental-health-covid-19 (18 Aug. 2020).

Thomas, G. (2019). The inspirational leader: inspire your team to believe in the impossible. Independently Published (March 20, 2019).

Total Brain. (2020). Elevated mental and emotional pressure now a constant. Mental Health Index. June 2020. https://www.totalbrain.com/mentalhealthindex/ (18 Aug. 2020).