As we exit lockdown and resume a semblance of normality mental health has become the buzz word of the moment. But, how do we ensure that we are actually planning for mental health and not just playing lip service to the current trending terminology?
Mental health describes a child or adolescent who has a positive sense of self and their abilities, a child with good mental health has good coping mechanisms to manage everyday stressors. Mental health can be seen as a continuum, moving between mental health and mental ill-health. We all have mental health, and as such, we will have times in life when it may be better or we may struggle.
For those who regularly read my blogs, you will have seen the timelines I released early on in lockdown predicting times and areas when we need to be aware of our family’s stressors and also key events which may cause stress or impact mental health.
Initially, on entering lockdown, may families felt a sense of relief, the media reporting, fears for safety and the reactions of the communities meant that many were glad to retreat from the chaos. Whilst fears were present, there was a sense of relief, gratitude and peace around being home and having a break from this time. However, as many have experienced or witnessed, this time became challenging for many, with anxiety, fear and cabin fever becoming very real as the months passed by. Whilst for some, lockdown was a time of reflection and enjoyment to reconnect with hobbies, have time to themselves and evaluate their futures, for others; it was full of angst, pain and upset as the lack of routines and juggling uncertainty around health, employment and finances started to take its toll. It was from this point that we can see a particular divide in mental health and emotions, whilst for some the release of lockdown was exciting and optimistic, others have remained in isolation and fearful for what has happened. For areas where lockdown has been reimplemented, families are finding the time tough to maintain optimism and positivity. As school returns this week, we only need to look to social media to see the divide of excitement and fear, the pandemic has challenged so many on different levels. But what comes next….?
The next stage, for me, is a time to monitor and support. Whilst the world returns to a semblance of normality, our brains and emotions have not necessarily caught up, and this means that the impact can be far reaching and needs to be well supported. As I speak to parents and professionals, I have encouraged the return to normality, but with an eye on emotions and to be aware that the impact of lockdown, for some, will not be present for 3-28 months after the event (and for some even longer). It takes a return to safety and routines, for many people to finally digest the impact, fear and worry that was created from the pandemic and the subsequent lockdown.
1. Routines galore – focus on developing strong and consistent routines. Routines create a sense of safety to our brains, and with safety we have time to digest and process what is happening around us. Therefore, the quicker we get consistent, the more useful it it to our emotional well-being and putting in place support that may be required.
2. Keep talking – Just because the lockdown is nearly over, it doesn’t mean that children and adulterer finished talking about it. Keeping communication open, and ensuring that we listen carefully to those reflections that come out of it will give insight into each family member’s processing and state of recovery from the changes.
3. Engage in some down time – As life resumes, it can easy to want to ‘make up for lost time’ and quickly overwhelm timetables with events we could not access 6 months ago. However, we need downtime and an opportunity to get a ‘little bored’ to process events. So ensure that children have downtime to process and let their minds digest the new state of normal.
4. Watch behaviours – Not all family members talk, some find expressing emotions very challenging, so watching behaviours becomes key to support. Be aware of children with disturbed sleep, disrupted eating habits, anger, agitation or expressing boredom at things they enjoyed, avoidance and isolation as early signs (see my mental health blog for more signs and symptoms). For adults, be aware of changes to eating or alcohol habits, disrupted sleep, short tempers, apathy, avoidance and upset as some signs that things are not peaceful and may need wider help.
5. Connect – The lockdown meant that we spent more time talking, connecting and spending time together than we often get opportunity to. As lockdown eases, maintaining phone calls, playtime and quality time together are key to being available to listen. Children often talk whilst engaged in activities (lego, drawing, construction toys or role play are often great times for emotions to be released), those adults struggling rarely pick up the phone and ask for help not wanting to burden others. Focussing on maintaining some connection will mean that any worries are quickly picked up.
6. Don’t dismiss the lockdown – It can be say to forget that trauma affects mental health long after the event, just because we are ok in the here and now, does not mean that impacts won’t be seen over the coming months and years. Anxieties are created from ongoing stress, so being aware that some of us will be impacted later than others is key to getting the right help when it is needed.
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