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How pandemic grief can look different in kids

Am I Okay?
Posted at 10:15 PM, Dec 15, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-15 23:46:39-05

MECHANICSVILLE, Va. -- A dire mental health crisis is being fueled by the pandemic and children are left feeling the devastating effects.

A recent public health advisory by the US Surgeon General gave a sobering glimpse into skyrocketing youth anxiety and depression, detailing suicide attempts were 51% higher for adolescent girls and 4% higher for boys compared to the same time period two years ago.

"I see it every day. I have never had as many kids in counseling as we do now," Dr. Neal Siler said.

Doctors Neal and Sharon Siler run The Healing Place in Mechanicsville. They share what they're hearing from kids struggling with mental health after pandemic isolation is alarming.

"Not only alone, but not seen, not heard, not welcome. Just here," Dr. Neal said.

More than 140,000 children in the US have lost a parent or grandparent to COVID-19. Dr. Siler said deep feelings of despair and grief can often lead to children acting out.

"Those behaviors are not the same in this environment. They are a cry for help. They're saying something is going on inside and I'm not able to articulate it and I want help with it. If we are not wise enough to recognize it, we will dismiss it and try to discipline it and all we do is create an environment that keeps people in pain," Dr. Neal said.

Experts at The Healing Place say parents should know grief is more than just sadness and can manifest in many ways. Being aware, alert and encouraging children to honor their feelings is critical.

"We may be absentminded, may be confused. It's physical. We might have tightness in the chest, a lump in the throat," Dr. Sharon said. "The thing that makes grief so challenging is we experience all of those at one time. People feel like often they're going crazy. But you're not. It's a normal response to loss."

"Mental health is a valid form of care and to ignore it is to run the risk of injuries that's beyond repair," Dr. Neal said.

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