Suicide Awareness During the Pandemic – Let’s Talk About It!
By Holly Branam, Youth First, Inc.
We are living in a unique time in history. Schools have been closed, events are cancelled and businesses are just now beginning to reopen their doors. We have experienced the loss of so many familiar things. Routines have changed and aspects of our lives are delayed indefinitely.
Although we are going through this pandemic together, our individual experiences are vastly different. Some of us are working outside the home, some are working inside the home and some have lost their jobs.
We may be overwhelmed juggling work and educating/entertaining our children or isolated, living alone, and desperate for human contact. There are some individuals who have directly experienced the loss of a loved one or reside in areas where the virus has spread quickly, while others are living in areas that have barely been affected.
As we begin the process of returning to a new normal, each person is going to have an opinion on the right way to move forward. There will be varying levels of comfort based on our individual experiences and location. My sister lives in a large city that has been greatly affected and plans to shelter in place for months, possibly. However, I live in a small town with less than a handful of cases and feel more comfortable venturing out.
As we begin to make plans for the future, my sister and I have started talking about what we are individually comfortable doing and have agreed to respect each other’s opinions no matter how different they may be. We love each other and value our relationship. That connection and support is more important than our individual opinions.
As humans, we were created to be in community with each other, and supportive relationships help us cope. Social media and a variety of other online options have made connecting possible during this difficult situation, and I feel blessed that we live in a time where this is possible.
Unfortunately, as I scroll through social media I am saddened and discouraged by the unkind posts I see. We need each other, and unkind words only work to separate us. Our energy is wasted on panic, blame, regret or anger. So instead, let’s focus our energy on kindness, caring, giving, and sharing.
These feelings of uncertainty won’t last forever, but the words we speak to others can have a lasting impact. As we move forward there is so much to be done. People are in need and we can put our compassion into action. We can spread kindness, listen to others, offer support, provide comfort and encourage one another.
We need to come out on the other side of this mentally healthy as well as physically healthy. We can’t control the choices others make, and trying to do so only creates frustration and distance. So let’s let go of what we can’t control and give each other a little more grace.
I was playing a game with my daughter the other day. She wasn’t sure if the number she was looking at was a 6 or a 9, and I realized that perspective is everything. Frequently we see things differently depending on how we are oriented to the world around us. Beyond our current situation, we have a lifetime of experiences and beliefs that have shaped us.
We will all have different ways to process and handle stress and change. Let’s begin to be aware of how our words and actions affect others and try to understand their perspective. We can find peace by reminding ourselves that people are imperfect and are doing the best they can with what they know.
Someday we may look back on this time and have all the answers, but right now we are just trying to make our way through. We are in uncharted waters, so let’s be kind. Together we can make a difference.
See Something, Say Something
You are not alone! Parents everywhere are struggling to care for their kids, help them with school work, and manage their own work while homebound by the COVID-19 crisis. Join us for this Facebook Live chat with a panel of parents/experts who will help sharpen your parenting (and teaching) superpowers. They will share better ways to manage your stress and take care of yourself alongside your family’s needs.
By Shannon Loehrlein, Youth First, Inc.
COVID-19 has led us into uncharted territory. Never before have schools across the country closed because of a pandemic.
As adults we may be worried about the future. How long will schools and businesses remain closed? We may also be worried about how closures will affect our monthly bills, paychecks, and childcare.
Children are worried too, but they worry about different things. Children are concerned about missing school, completing virtual assignments, and missed play time with friends. My 5-year old has been asking when she can go back to school to be with friends.
As adults, we don’t know the answers to a lot of these questions, but there are some things we can do to help manage our children’s fears. Below are some tips for parents and caregivers.
- First, manage your own anxiety about the situation. As parents we are naturally anxious about this situation. This is a good opportunity to help our child co-regulate. If we can manage our own emotions, then our children will see positive coping skills in action.
- Let your child know it’s okay to talk through their emotions. Allow them to ask questions, but don’t feel like you must have an answer to all of their questions. Listening is powerful. Sometimes all we can do is say, “I can understand why you feel that way.” Children need to feel heard and validated.
- Limit your child’s exposure to news. This is also helpful for adults. In the 24-hour news cycle it can be tempting to watch the news all day. It is important to stay informed but not oversaturated. Watching too much news can instill fear and anxiety in children.
- Keep a schedule. Many parents are being forced to either work from home or find emergency daycare placement with family or friends during this time. Kids thrive on a schedule, and their usual routine has been disrupted. Kids of all ages – and even adults – do not do as well when they are off of their normal schedule. So create a new schedule, and try to organize your child’s day during typical school hours. You can find free examples of schedules online.
- Make sure you limit digital time. Although students have virtual learning built into their day, make sure you weave in play time and non-digital time throughout the day. Excessive use of electronics can increase anxiety, so make sure your child takes breaks from electronics during the day.
- Encourage outdoor play. Kids are used to outdoor recess. Even if the weather forecast is not ideal, encourage kids to go outdoors in between the rain showers. They need to be able to run around and play to release energy and stress.
- Teach your kids coping skills. Exercise, belly breathing, and talking about their feelings are going to be really important during this time. Also encourage your children (especially teenagers) to reach out to their friends by phone and text. For teenagers, relationships with peers are very important.
- Lastly, use this time to reconnect as a family. Normally our busy schedules leave us little quality time with family. Use this time to play board games, have family meals, and connect.
By Jordan Beach, Youth First, Inc.
With the current global health crisis, it seems like we are surrounded by doom-and-gloom information at all times. It’s easy to find negative news everywhere we look – on TV, on social media, and in written news.
More than ever, it is very important for us to be mindful and intentional about the information we consume. Being informed is important, but not more important than your mental health. We are going to discuss some ways to help make your mental health a priority while also being in the know about current events.
Currently some media outlets are heavily focused on the negative things happening around us. The pandemic information is scary, but it’s very compelling. This is the type of news that sucks people in, but it can also have a very negative impact on your mental health.
One thing experts suggest is getting information directly from the source instead of from news outlets seeking increased ratings. For example, with COVID-19, a good place to get information would be from the Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) website.
It is important to have a general understanding of what is going on in the world so you know which guidelines to follow to keep you and your family safe, but it is not necessary to have a constant influx of this information.
Actually, research conducted by Health Psychology suggests that seeing too much negativity can be harmful to your mental health. Being bombarded with negative news can increase your own risk of developing depression and/or anxiety. Research done at the University of California Irvine states that during a time of crisis people who seek repetitive negative news can be affected for up to three years after the event.
Also, be sure that if you are spending time on social media you are not using it as your main source of information about what is going on in the world. Limit your time spent online, especially on social media sites. This is also a good time to clean out the people and businesses you follow on social media. If there are people filling your feed with negativity or outlets posting only doom and gloom news stories, this would be the perfect time to filter your access to them. In exchange, look for some positive accounts to follow. In this time when we’re seeing so much negativity, there are also a lot of people working hard to fill the world with light and positivity.
This is also a good time for you and your family to work together to spread kindness within your own home and neighborhood. Write positive notes to your neighbors with sidewalk chalk and send thank-you notes to essential workers.
There is so much good happening in the world today, but choosing to focus on the negative can take a serious toll on your mental and physical health. For the well-being of you and your family, it is important to be informed but not overstimulated with negativity. Right now it is best to follow guidelines, stay home and do positive things.
By Mary Ruth Branstetter, Youth First, Inc.
Many years ago a friend gave me a beautifully framed quote that reads, “Serenity is not freedom from the storm, but peace within the storm.”
Over the last couple of weeks we have all found ourselves within the storm of the COVID-19 pandemic. This is especially true for children and parents of school-aged children.
Our children have had to switch gears from going to school to being at home 24 hours a day/7 days per week. Parents have had to shift gears also, possibly working from home and adding the title of “teacher” to their parental resume.
This shift creates additional work and stress for both parents and children. However, children often do not know how to put words to their feelings. Because children may not have words such as worry, fear, sadness, anxiety, anger, and even depression to describe their stressful feelings, they act out.
Acting out may look like excessive clinginess, tearfulness, emotional meltdowns, aggressiveness, or regression in other behaviors. Children may also suffer from more physical complaints such as headaches, stomach aches, a racing heart, dizziness, interruption in sleep patterns, etc.
As a parent, grandparent or caregiver, you have the challenge of helping your child learn to express and deal with their complicated feelings in a healthy, appropriate manner. This is no easy task, as you may be experiencing many of the same feelings yourself. However, you have to remember that you are your child’s “safe place” in what may seem like an unsafe world at present.
Children are usually at their best when they feel safe, connected to others and have structure and organization in their lives; in other words, a sense of predictability and normalcy. You can be this fortress of safety and normalcy by trying some of the following strategies.
Learn/teach how to properly practice deep, relaxing breathing. You can do this in innovative, fun ways such as lying on the floor with your child while each of you puts a stuffed animal on your stomach. As you breathe in through your nose for a count of 3 or 4 and out through your mouth for a count of 3 or 4, you should see the animal sink and rise on your belly. This means you are doing deep, relaxing diaphragm breathing.
Deep breathing activates your parasympathetic nervous system. In simple language, it helps decrease sensations of fear or distress and increases a sense of calm. This would be an excellent way to start your at-home school days along with a discussion of what the day’s routine is going to be, which again conveys a sense of safety to children.
Try to take a break every 20-30 minutes, depending on age and attention span of your child. During these breaks, dance, sing, hum, and encourage movement, as these types of activities help to naturally promote a sense of calmness and/or positive mood.
If you notice your child is starting to become frustrated or upset during an assignment, try to interrupt the frustration before it becomes a full-blown meltdown. Suggest they splash cold water on their face, put a cool rag to the back of their neck, or give them a piece of sugar-free candy or gum to chew.
You could also try a 5-minute “blanket break.” Wrap the upset child in a blanket for 5 minutes, have them close their eyes if they’re comfortable doing so, take 3-4 deep breaths and think about a family vacation, memory or activity that makes them happy.
End your home school/homework time with a discussion of what the next day’s tentative schedule is going to be and one thing they have learned or are grateful for from their day. Again, this promotes predictability and a positive attitude. Also, in ending your school/homework time with your children, give them time to ask questions or talk about something that is on their mind or important to them.
Even if you only have 5 or 10 minutes to do this, try to really listen, empathize if needed, answer questions truthfully with age-appropriate facts…and try not to be judgmental. Just like you, children are trying to understand and come to terms with the current chaos and unknown of the “new normal” – in what is nottheir normal world.
Please check out the Youth First website at youthfirstinc.org/selmaterial for additional suggestions, activities, and exercises to help strengthen families and youth through this stressful time in our lives.
By Christine Weinzapfel-Hayden, Youth First, Inc.
America has found itself in a medical crisis that most people didn’t see coming. There have been a lot of sudden changes in our lives that we weren’t anticipating. One of the most significant changes is the sudden break from school. Some school corporations have announced they will not resume school this year.
It is crucial that we help provide our children with sense of comfort during this time. What are some things we can do to help provide our children with comfort and routine during a time that seems to be anything BUT routine?
First, take care of your own mental health. If you’re feeling anxious about current events it is very important to minimize your own anxiety. Your children will be able to tell that you’re anxious, and this could create some anxiety in them as well.
Strategies for managing your anxiety might include meditation, exercise, yoga, and reading. It is important that you have an outlet during this time. Be sure conversations you’re having about your own fears are not happening in front of your children.
Your kids are probably spending a lot more time at home than they’re used to. It is important to provide them with some normalcy during this time. If you have assignments for them to complete, set aside time daily for them to do this work. This time should be structured and quiet, much like their school day.
If you do not have assignments your children are working on at this time, I strongly suggest creating structured time in their day where they read quietly or work on age-appropriate math and language arts activities. There are a lot of websites providing free services at this time due to so many schools being closed. Keeping some structured time is important; when they return to school it will help lessen the shock.
Once you have your structured time planned, it is also important to build in fun. I know it seems more difficult to have fun when you’re stuck in your house. This is a perfect time to dust off those old board games, have some killer dance parties, try a new recipe together and remember what it’s like to enjoy each other’s company without deadlines and schedules hanging over your head.
Times are difficult and confusing right now, but we can absolutely make the best of it. Take this time to enjoy togetherness with those you love most.