During the COVID-19 crisis, parents with kids at home are often assuming the roles of educators. But a leading expert cautions that parents are also on the frontline of supporting their children’s mental health.
Terri Erbacher, a school psychologist and co-author of “Suicide in Schools: A Practitioner’s Guide to Multi-level Prevention, Assessment, Intervention, and Postvention,” says that suicide is the second leading cause of death for youth ages 15 to 24 and the third leading cause of death for kids aged 10 to 24, and that parents must be on the alert during these difficult times.
In an article Erbacher wrote for The Philadelphia Inquirer, she says that while school counselors, social workers, and psychologists are offering counseling via telehealth, it may be more difficult for these professionals to evaluate children and adolescents who are struggling emotionally.
“Warning signs for suicide are often hidden and best detected by those who know the child well, especially a parent,” she said. “Warning signs might include children appearing depressed, withdrawn, lacking energy, feeling hopeless about the future, or displaying overwhelming emotional distress.”
While Erbacher acknowledged that it may be difficult distinguishing COVID-19 anxiety from a real psychological struggle, she encouraged parents to have an open dialogue, asking their children how they are feeling, and more directly, if they have thoughts of suicide.
“Asking about suicide does not give the child the idea to do it,” she told the Inquirer. She advised parents to listen to their kids and praise them for being honest. She added that some children aren’t comfortable talking to their parents and may be better off discussing their situation with a third party. A 24/7 resource is the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-8355 or the Crisis Textline which can be reached by texting HELP to 741-741.
Erbacher said that many therapists are offering telehealth sessions during COVID-19. Check with your healthcare provider, insurance company or your child’s pediatrician to find the best options, she advised.
“It takes a village to keep children safe, especially during these unprecedented times,” she said. “So, do not be afraid to reach out for help. Your child does not need to go though this alone, and neither do you.”
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