JAMESTOWN – The novel Coronavirus outbreak may be stressful for people and communities. Fear and anxiety about a disease can be overwhelming and cause strong emotions in adults and children.
Everyone reacts differently to stressful situations. The emotional impact of an emergency on a person can depend on the person’s characteristics and experiences, the social and economic circumstances of the person and their community, and the availability of local resources. People can become more distressed if they see repeated images or hear repeated reports about the outbreak in the media.
Children react, in part, on what they see from the adults around them. When parents and caregivers deal with the COVID-19 calmly and confidently, they can provide the best support for their children. Parents can be more reassuring to others around them, especially children, if they are better prepared.
Not all children respond to stress in the same way. Some common changes to watch for in children include excessive crying and irritation, unhealthy eating or sleeping habits, “acting out” behaviors, difficulty with attention and concentration, and avoidance of activities enjoyed in the past.
Dr. Rochelle Von Hof, Coordinator of Children’s Single Point of Access (SPOA), offered some advice, “There are many things you can do to support your child including taking time to talk with your child about the COVID-19 outbreak. Answer questions and share facts about COVID-19 in a way that your child can understand. It is important to reassure your child that they are safe. Let them know if is ok if they feel upset, and share with them how you deal with your own stress so that they can learn how to cope from you.” Dr. Von Hof continued, “Please consider limiting your child’s exposure to media coverage of the event. Some children may misinterpret what they hear and can be frightened about something they do not understand.”
“Helping your child to have a sense of structure is another step you can take to support your child’s mental health. Once it is safe to return to school or childcare, this step may help them return to their regular activities,” said Rachel Ludwig, Tapestry Resilience Grant Director. “Most importantly, be a good health role model. Remember to take breaks, get plenty of sleep, exercise, eat well, and drink plenty of water. Connect with your friends and family members and rely on your social support system.”
Coping with these feelings and getting help when you need it will help you, your family, and your community recover from a disaster. Connect with family, friends, and others in your community. Take care of yourself and each other, and know when and how to seek help.
Children with preexisting mental health conditions should continue with their treatment plans during an emergency and monitor for any new symptoms. If you need to seek treatment for yourself or a child, please call one of the County Behavioral Health Clinics in Jamestown at 716-661-8330 or in Dunkirk at 716-363-3550. The staff at the Chautauqua County Department of Mental Hygiene is here to help.
Call your healthcare provider if stress reactions interfere with daily activities for several days in a row. If you, a friend, or loved one is experiencing a medical emergency, go to the nearest emergency room or call 911, or if you are experiencing a personal crisis or are in emotions distress, call the Chautauqua County Crisis Hotline at 1-800-724-02461.
Additional information and resources on mental health care can be found at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) website, www.SAMHSA.gov.
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA’s) Disaster Distress Hotline can be reached at 1-800-985-5990 or text TalkWithUs to 66746. People with deafness or hearing loss can use their preferred relay service to call 1-800-985-5990.