STUDENT WELLNESS

Help Available For Students With Mental Health Issues Amid Pandemic

Nov 13, 2020, 9:42 PM | Updated: Dec 7, 2022, 12:15 am

SALT LAKE CITY — Thousands of Utah teenagers have been placed under a mandatory online learning program through the end of the month. That change has many families working to help their kids cope with increased anxiety, depression and sadness.

The news came just days after Gov. Gary Herbert implemented an increased stay-at-home order.

Child psychologists said many teenagers are grieving the things they’ve lost, like people grieve death.

“It’s almost like a death to them,” said Dr. Annie Deming with Intermountain Healthcare. “A part of their childhood has died.”

Deming said kids need to know parents are there to listen, even if they can’t understand.

“During this time, when they literally can’t even make connections at school and just have that human interaction on a day-to-day basis, it’s just really hard,” said Deming.

Parents like Heidi Christensen, who has four children in school, including one in college, said the changes from the governor’s office and the shift to digital learning has been tough on her children.

A school counselor recommended her daughter get professional help. Easier said than done, Christensen said.

“The first therapist gave me a callback and was like, ‘I would love to see your daughter. But first, I’m not taking new patients, and if I was, I wouldn’t be able to get her in for a year,’” Christensen said, adding that she’s heard that from two different therapists.

In the meantime, thousands of families have been staring down a dismal winter full of quarantines and life that likely won’t feel “normal” for months to come.

And for Christensen and her family, they’ve changed their focus from getting good grades to staying mentally strong. Deming recommended families get back to interacting with each other and having fun.

“It sounds a bit cheesy but family game night, or family movie night,” she said.

Deming said those simple, interactive activities can be an important part of fighting depression and anxiety.

She said Zoom calls and video conferencing are not enough to satisfy the social demands that are so important to teenagers and their mental well-being. Christensen said she doesn’t pretend to know all of the answers, but she doesn’t think students need to be kicked out of the classrooms.

“People are on overload,” she said. “Our health care workers are on overload. Our educators are on overload. The kids are on overload – and all for a pandemic that has a high, high survival rate.”

Most of the school districts across the state have mental help professionals on staff and available to families even when the schools have moved to remote learning. The state also has an emotional health relief hotline. It’s open seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. The number is 833-442-2211. It’s free and they can offer resources.

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