What Parents Can Do to Protect Children’s Mental Health During Remote Learning
Posted February 1, 2021
NEW YORK (JANUARY 27, 2021) – In many places throughout the U.S., virtual classrooms have become the new norm for learning during the COVID-19 pandemic. While the drivers of suicide risk are multi-dimensional and there is currently no research demonstrating causation between remote learning and children’s mental health or suicide, we do know that there are steps parents, teachers, and other caring adults can take to protect the mental health of our children during this time.
Dr. Christine Mouthier, The Chief Medical Officer of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention released this statement about actions we can take to support the mental health of children:
“As the nation’s largest suicide prevention organization, we know that suicide is complex and has many factors. What we also must remember is that while increased stress can contribute to feelings of depression and anxiety, that mental health distress is linked but also distinct from suicide. Suicide is complex and not solely attributable to these factors, but rather, a convergence of biological, environmental and other risk factors in one’s history.
We do not yet have national suicide data during most of the COVID-19 pandemic, therefore, claims about increasing suicide rates during COVID-19, in general and as a direct result of remote learning, are not based in current available data and are unfounded. Emerging data from several countries show no evidence of increased suicide rates during the first few months of the pandemic. For more on this topic read the Jama Network Article - Suicide Prevention in the COVID-19 Era.
It is not a foregone conclusion that the pandemic and resulting remote learning will lead to an increased suicide rate among children. We are amid an unprecedented public health crisis, yet we also have an extraordinary opportunity to come together within our families and our communities to protect the mental health of our children during this period of virtual learning and as schools reopen and they transition to a different learning environment. Research shows that even among children who experience significant trauma, the presence of one caring adult during the child and teen years can mitigate against the harmful effects of trauma.
There are actions parents and other adults can take to protect the mental health of our children: take care of your own mental health since children are highly sensitive to the wellbeing of the family environment, have open, honest conversations with your children about their perceptions and feelings, check in on their mental health, stick to regular routines as much as possible, limit your children’s news intake and watch and discuss it with them when they do see it, facilitate safe socially-distant or virtual opportunities to connect with loved ones, and ensure your children continue to get physical exercise. Additionally, all parents should learn the Suicide Warning Signs and seek professional help. For a complete list of mental health resources on the lower Eastern Shore and beyond, see our Resources Guide 2020.
We have many options for support including telehealth options, mindfulness apps, and technology to facilitate face-to-face connection. Lean on the team of adults in your child’s life such as teachers, school counselors, coaches, mentors, faith leaders. Communicate with them, see what they are noticing in your child, and ask for their extra engagement with your child if you are concerned. Suicide can be prevented, and we can all make a positive impact to support our children’s mental health during this time.
Suicide contagion is a well-established phenomenon with specific types of messaging known to increase risk of suicide. During COVID-19, it is especially important for the media to avoid any unintended consequences of reporting on suicide, keeping messages focused on suicide as a preventable cause of death, and promoting resources for help and support.”