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School counselors & mental health professionals assisting more kids than ever

It's pandemic-related
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Posted at 6:35 PM, Dec 14, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-14 18:35:53-05

INDIANAPOLIS — Counselors and social workers in local schools and mental health professionals in Indianapolis hospital systems are seeing an increase in kids who need help.

“I would say we're definitely seeing it increase of students talking about anxiety when it comes to either their own personal relationship or experience with COVID-19,” said Britney Coats, Social Worker at Carmel Clay School District.

Coats has worked in the school setting as a social worker for eight years. She says this one is unlike any other. “I would say this year I feel like I have really been able to hone in on all of my social worker skills,” said Coats.

Students are coming to her in person, via zoom and over messaging through the school online classroom portal. Anxiety is a big topic, but so is grief.

“So it may be grief that they've experienced personally, with COVID-19 or a family member or friend. But they're also grieving their normal life. Students who usually are involved in clubs or extracurricular activities, whether it's in school or out of school, either not being able to do those things or they're looking so different right now. They are also grieving that time with their friends because we have our hybrid schedules,” said Coats.

She says some students are ones she has worked with in the past, but there are also a lot of new faces in the past few months. “We’re definitely seeing that there are students who wouldn't typically reach out they are reaching out now,” said Coats.

She says the number of families who are reaching out to her for assistance has also grown. The number of parents emailing to ask for help or resources has doubled.

Hospital workers have experienced more kids coming in with mental health issues too. Dr. Anne Gilbert, Psychiatrist and director for IU Health Virtual Behavioral Health Hub says she’s never seen anything like it.

While IU Health is seeing a general increase in patients coming in for behavioral health issues, there has been a substantial increase in kids recently. “It’s mostly depression and stress,” said Gilbert.

She believes the lack of socialization is the big problem. “One of the most important thing that kids do in their lives right now is form relationships and now its so stilted they can’t do it,” said Gilbert.

Gilbert says typically she would see five or six kids a day and that number has doubled. She is also admitting more kids to the hospital. Most of those having issues are between the ages of 11 and 16-years -old.

Coats says parents can keep an eye out for warning signs so they can get help for their children as soon as possible.

Here are some warning signs to keep an eye out for:

  • Loss of interest in activities they like.
  • No longer talking to their friends.
  • Change in sleeping patterns, too much or too little.
  • Change in eating patterns.

Coats and Gilbert both encourage parents to talk to their kids about how they are feeling. Coats recommends that parents don’t focus on the negative but also bring up some of the positive sides of the past few months.

“While you are talking about the challenges, make sure we are also looking at what are the skills that the students or the family has developed during this challenge… we can say we made it through this and it has made us stronger for these reasons,” said Coats.

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