Understanding the Mental Health of Our Children: What You Need to Know
Have you noticed that your child is feeling or behaving differently during the past few years? Have you noticed anxiety, sadness, fearfulness, behavior problems, or difficulty with your child’s academic performance?
You are not alone. Many parents in Northwest Florida have noticed their children are struggling more in schoolwork, feeling more stress, and showing signs of anxiety and depression. The aftermath of the pandemic and trying to adjust back to classroom learning after distance learning has been tough on everyone from educators, school counselors, parents, and especially students.
Pensacola Counselors Seeing More Anxiety and Depression in Children
An article in the Pensacola News Journal, School counselors seeing more signs of student anxiety, depression in wake of pandemic, shared elementary school teachers and school faculty in the Escambia County School District made more referrals to Lakeview Center counselors before Christmas break in the 2021-2022 school year than in the entirety of the 2020-2021 school year. Patti Hyde, a licensed clinical social worker at Lakeview Center, had this to say:
“We have definitely seen an increase in anxiety and depression, and the other thing that we’re noticing, at our level of care, is an increase in what is like a trauma response,” Hyde said. “I’m not sure if we would delegate that a PTSD diagnosis at this point, so much as they’re just responding to the anxiety that their parents are experiencing.”
There is no doubt 2019-2022 has been an extremely challenging time for both parents and kids. This is perhaps especially true for children, who have had to deal with significant changes in their educational process along with their home environment. During the pandemic, students were required to do school online and often didn’t have the necessary support or guidance needed while having limited social interaction with friends. Since going back to school, they have had the distractions of wearing masks, being quarantined, and dealing with the shortage of teachers (even bus drivers) that are affecting schools from Milton, Pace, Pensacola, Gulf Breeze all the way to Fort Walton Beach.
Children are curious, and despite our best efforts to shield them, they notice when parents are stressed and are often left unsupervised as parents are working more. This leads to excess screentime, gaming and social media to be a major influence on what they see and do when not at school. This combined with changes they may be experiencing in their daily lives can easily lead to anxiety and stress.
Parents in Pensacola Turn to Neurofeedback to Help Anxiety & Depression
Pamela Downey, MS, LMHC, at Emerald Coast Neurofeedback has seen a significant increase in the number of parents requesting neurofeedback therapy for elementary, middle, and high school students. “Many parents are looking for an alternative to medication to help their kids who are struggling in school with ADHD, anxiety or depression.”
Non-invasive, evidence-based EEG biofeedback has been shown to improve functioning in children and adults who are experiencing brain dysregulation. Neurofeedback does not include the use of medication, treating the brain without chemicals, meaning no unwanted side effects. Emerald Coast Neurofeedback clients experience long lasting results in symptoms of mood disorders such as depression and bipolar disorder, as well as anxiety, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Because the brain is a complex system, and every brain is different, it is impossible to attribute any single symptom a person may be experiencing to a specific mental health disorder. Emerald Coast Neurofeedback gets at the root of the issue based upon clusters of symptoms that indicate which specific brain wave patterns to target, using a symptom-based assessment tool to generate individualized protocols based on the symptoms your child, or you, are currently struggling with. Emerald Coast Neurofeedback clients typically experience relief of symptoms because the symptoms are targeted directly.
“The best part of my job is seeing people start to feel better,” says Margaret Carr, MS, LMHC, who administers neurofeedback assessments and sessions at the Pensacola and Fort Walton Beach offices for Emerald Coast Neurofeedback. Margaret goes on to say that clients have verbally reported dramatic results, including improvement in mood and self-confidence, a decrease in problematic behaviors related to anxiety or hyperactivity, increased focus and executive functioning, and reduced symptoms of traumatic stress. “With over five years of experience with this biofeedback system, I have been amazed over and over by how much it has helped people,” Margaret says. “I would not do this work if that were not the case.”
If you or your child are concerned because you have found they are falling behind in their grade level, neurofeedback can help them improve their focus and concentration in school and other activities. Neurofeedback clients often begin to see results in just 5-8 sessions and can experience significant improvements with long lasting results in 20-30 sessions.
Signs of Anxiety, Depression, and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, says that anxiety in children may show up in predictable ways, as fear or worry; but it can also make children irritable and angry, cause trouble sleeping, and manifest as physical symptoms like fatigue, headache, or stomach issues. If these symptoms become so severe or there are so many of them that they become a hindrance with school, home, or play activities, then a child may be experiencing anxiety. Separation anxiety, phobias, social anxiety, general anxiety, and panic disorder are all examples of anxiety disorders that can be seen in children as well as adults.
Depression in children can manifest as feeling sad, hopeless, or irritable a lot of the time; not wanting to do or enjoy doing fun things; showing changes in eating patterns (eating a lot more or a lot less than usual); showing changes in sleep patterns (sleeping a lot more or a lot less than normal); showing changes in energy level (being tired and sluggish, or being tense and restless a lot of the time); having a hard time paying attention; feeling worthless, useless, or guilty; or showing self-injury and self-destructive behaviors, including suicidal gestures or attempts.
Children who have experienced a very stressful event or who are under stress for long periods of time can develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Symptoms of PTSD that adults may observe in children can include reliving the event over and over in thought or in play; nightmares and sleep problems; becoming very upset when something causes memories of the event; lack of positive emotions; intense ongoing fear or sadness; irritability and angry outbursts; constantly looking for possible threats; being easily startled; acting helpless, hopeless or withdrawn; denying that the event happened or feeling numb; or avoiding places or people associated with the event. Examples of events that could cause PTSD include (but are not limited to) physical, sexual, or emotional abuse; being a victim or witness to violence or crime; serious illness or death of a close family member or friend; natural or manmade disasters (such as a devastating hurricane or a global pandemic); and severe car accidents.
It can also be difficult to discern what the origins of a child’s symptoms are. Children may not show or talk about their depression or anxiety symptoms. A child who is depressed may not appear sad; a child with anxiety may not appear fearful. Mental health issues might cause a child to display behavior problems, such as defiance or lack of motivation, causing adults to incorrectly label the child as lazy or a troublemaker. Many of the symptoms of depression and anxiety described above can be better explained by other disorders, such as PTSD, or ADHD.
According to a report on WEARTV, Crisis in the Classroom: Mental health issues rise among Northwest Florida students, 2019 CDC data show that nearly 10% of all high school students made suicide attempts during that year. Across Escambia, Santa Rosa and Okaloosa counties in Northwest Florida, deaths by suicide increased from 2019 to 2020. The Department of Health list suicide as the second leading cause of death for individuals aged 10 to 34 years. Now, more than ever, it is crucially important to address mental health issues in our children as soon as they are seen or suspected.