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Johns Hopkins Psychology Director gives mental health warning signs as kids head back to school

Helping students' mental health as they return to school amid COVID-19
Posted at 9:32 AM, Aug 04, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-05 11:02:18-04

Kids in our local counties go back to school in less than a week.

And after a year and a half of living through the pandemic, this school year looks to be a lot more normal than last year.

So we talked to the Director of Psychology at Johns Hopkins about warning signs you should look for as your kids head back to class.

"What we do know from prior times of pandemic and prior times of quarantine and isolation like we've had is that there are long-term impacts in terms of not only stress, anxiety and depression, but increased suicide attempts and post-traumatic stress disorder," said Dr. Jennifer Katzenstein, who's the Director of Psychology and Neuro-Psychology and Co-Director of the Center for Behavioral Health at Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital.

She says as pre-school and elementary students return to the classroom, children may experience separation anxiety.

So parents need to get back into a routine.

"Getting a great amount of sleep, an ideal bedtime routine and a morning routine so that they know what to expect and their bodies winding down. Taking electronics away in that hour before bedtime so that our mind isn't overly stimulated right before we go to sleep. Huge things for our littles," explained Katzenstein.

And for middle school students?

"This is when we really want to be watching that social media use, now more than ever before. So continue to know all of the apps that they are on. All of the information they're putting out on the internet. Have your friends, relatives as an extra set of eyes on their social media so that you know what's happening. And then giving them that space every day where everyone puts their electronics down. And we're talking about what's happening," she said.

And Katzenstein recommends teaching kids coping skills, especially if they're experiencing social anxiety.

"So taking your deep breaths, some meditation, and as you're seeing kids potentially have negative thoughts about the return to school, really helping them to reframe that into the positive and the excitement about being back in person," Katzenstein explained.

And with high school kids, Katzenstein says substance abuse is also on the rise. So pay close attention to your teenagers.

"We've seen an increase still in ingestion of drugs, and a significant amount, some suicide and some not. And then others increase in eating disorders. So the disordered eating increase has been significant over the past few months," she said.

And be sure to talk to your child openly about their mental well-being.

"I think the great part about all of this is it's brought mental health to the forefront and recognizing that we were in a mental health epidemic before the COVID-19 pandemic and the great importance that has to be placed on not only taking care of our physical health, but our mental health and well being as well," she said.

Katzenstein recommends visiting your child's school before the first day of class so they can feel more comfortable about going back in person and learn where everything is again.

And find out what the new protocols are at school, including escorting your kids, will they need a mask and any other pandemic rule still in place.

And after a lazy summer, Katzenstein says get kids back on a good sleep schedule and cut way back on the use of electronics.