Local experts see dramatic spike in anxiety, depression in kids

Published: Sep. 24, 2020 at 5:17 PM EDT
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. (WNDU) - We know it’s been stressful over the last six months and it’s been especially stressful for our children. Local experts are seeing a drastic increase in parents reaching out to them for help dealing with their children’s anxiety and depression. We’re digging deeper to discover the warning signs and what parents can do to help.

“Adults are feeling this, kids are feeling this, it’s a feeling of unsettlement,” said Dr. Jagadeesh Reddy, a Child Psychiatrist with Beacon Medical Group Behavioral Health.

Dr. Reddy is seeing a big surge in anxiety and depression among young people.

“It’s very tricky to identify in young kids and teenagers,” Dr. Reddy said. “They won’t come up to you and say they’re anxious or feeling different. As a parent, you have to be careful about what your kids are going through.”

Dr. Reddy says parents need to look out for these warning signs: an increase in feelings of anger, fear or irritability, wanting to be alone or losing interest in normal activities, eating more or less than usual, different sleeping patterns or somatic symptoms, like stomach aches or headaches.

He warns these symptoms won’t just disappear once the pandemic ends. If the anxiety or depression is left untreated, children could experience chronic insomnia, continued anxiety or depression or eating disorders.

So what can parents do to help?

Dr John Petersen, a licensed psychologist with ‘Family Psychology of South Bend’ says COVID took away many familiar areas where children thrive, like social relationships or normal rituals.

He said in part, “Parents can help their children feel grounded in safety by providing some general structure and predictability in the day.”

Dr. Peterson also says when your child starts to get anxious, “Measured and well-placed reassurance can help people avoid getting anxious about getting anxious. Don’t freak out about your child’s anxiety but take action.”

He also suggests putting aside 10-15 minutes where you and your child talk about the stress of the pandemic. Outside of that time, leave it to the child to talk about it. Dr. Petersen understand screen time could be a stress reliever for them so instead of cutting them off, maybe joining them.

Dr. Petersen also says having anxiety during this time is normal but if it exists long term, it might be time to seek help.

Some basic self-care practices and tips of warding off depression include: getting some sun, being outside, exercise, establishing a reliable sleep schedule, eating a balanced diet, listening to deeper desires you may not be honoring or indulging in and paying attention to what you’re grateful for.

Dr. Petersen also recommends using relaxation or meditation apps like Calm, Headspace, or Heart Math.

“These are excellent ways to reduce anxiety in the moment but also to lower the baseline level of anxiety,” Dr. Petersen said. “Daily mindful relaxation helps heal anxiety and serves as a prophylactic when practiced daily.”

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