Isolation and uncertainty due to the COVID-19 pandemic can take a toll on the mental health of students and families, but help is available.
The Stillwater Area School District is offering support for families and students during the pandemic.
“Please give yourself grace, parents,” said superintendent Denise Pontrelli at the April 23 school board meeting
Some of the resources offered by the school district are support groups online for parents, links with community organizations for food assistance and financial supports, and virtual counseling session for students with school counselors or mental health providers.
We really want you to focus on the social and emotional needs of your students,” Pontrelli said.
Another resource for families is the National Alliance on Mental Illness Minnesota. Online peer support groups are available, according to NAMI Minnesota Executive Director Sue Abderholden.
The organization also offers online “NAMI moment” classes, which are 15 minute classes aimed at parents who may not have more time to attend. Those classes include lessons on dealing with a mental health crisis with a child, mental health in the work place, anxiety during a pandemic and more, Abderholden said.
NAMI Minnesota has partnered with mental health professionals to deliver 45-minute classes as well.
Whether or not people have the technology to access the classes, Abderholden has a few recommendations for folks to help relieve some anguish at home. Her first recommendation is limiting news intake.
“Just look one time a day, or twice a day, because when people are listening constantly it starts getting people to be anxious,” Abderholden said.
She also recommended sleeping the right amount and making sure to get up and move.
“Whether it’s dancing to Lizzo in your living room or taking a walk around the block, ... there are lots of different things that you can do to move, and we really encourage people to do that,” Abderholden said. “You will feel better. It does help with stress. It does help with anxiety.”
Because so much of what is going on right now is out of people’s control, Abderholden recommended focusing on what they can control.
While a schedule can be a helpful way to control time, Abderholden says to avoid trying to maintain a strict schedule. She recommends being kind to yourself and students.
“I call it giving yourself grace and space,” Abderholden said. “We’re not going to be perfect parents, they’re not going to be perfect kids right now. We just need to acknowledge that.”
And try not to think further ahead than necessary.
“There are only three days: yesterday, today and tomorrow — don’t go beyond that,” Abderholden said. “The more we worry about what’s going to happen next week the more we increase our anxiety.”
Parents also should listen to their students and avoid minimizing their problems.
Kids are dealing with major structural changes to their lives right now, like being stuck at home. Along with that comes the grief that a lot of teenagers may be feeling after losing their graduations, award ceremonies and sports, Abderholden said.
“While as adults we can look back and say, ‘Really you’re going to forget that night anyway when you’re 50 years old,’ when you’re 15 or 16 those are a huge deal, and that is a lot of loss for them,” Abderholden said.
Many of these kids may not have the coping skills necessary, and Abderholden said adults should try to help them through the loss of major life events for a teenager.
She said parents don’t need to try and solve the problem but should listen and acknowledge the loss.
As always, NAMI’s help line is open, too. Callers are encouraged to leave a message so staff can get back to them. The number is 651-645-2948 ext. 117.
If you or someone you know is in a mental health crisis, you can call the national suicide hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “MN” to 741741.