There’s no denying it that right now, everyone is suffering in some way or another due to the ongoing lockdowns and continuing uncertainty caused by coronavirus, and particularly our children. Paediatricians and child psychiatrists are reporting a significant increase in the number of youth seeking help during the pandemic. The waitlists to speak to an expert are months long and growing!
Our very own Nerida Hansen has witnessed the stress that COVID-19 has created at home and the helplessness of not being about to find professional help for her son. Today she has an open and honest conversation with our blog editor, Jacqui Taylor, about her firsthand experience and reaching out to Kids Helpline.
Nerida, let’s talk about what is going on at home and the repercussions or result of consecutive lockdowns on your son. How old is he? Could you describe him. How does he like to spend his time?
Sure, he is 10 years old, and he is a very creative kid who loves his team sports. He spends time playing guitar, either bass, electric or acoustic. He loves playing AFL but his favourite pastime is time with his mates and family.
Recently, you experienced and noticed a few changes with regards to your son. Talk me through those changes in his behaviour and character.
He has always been a sensitive one, but we had the unfortunate incident of a COVID-19 case recently at our school. Our whole school was subsequently quarantined, and it was toward the end of this time we noticed a much higher level of anxiety, worry and concern in him. It was culminating in him being very upset several times in the day and becoming very worried about sleep.
These are significant changes. As his mum, who knows him best, what caused these changes?
The changes were definitely due to his concerns about COVID-19 and the immediate impact it had on our family and his community – not being able to go to school and see his mates was hard, but being completely locked away was even harder. Normally in lockdown he would enjoy an hour or two of bike riding with one of his friends – not being able to see them at all was really difficult. We realised any news he was getting from the TV was also upsetting him as he would start asking questions about the world and how bad things were.
During quarantine we also allowed many hours of online time so he could socialise with his friends. It was a great solution at the time but I think this also had a significant impact on him and his ability to cope afterwards, and it also affected his sleep hygiene.
What was your response to this? What did you do and where did you seek help?
I wanted to seek counselling for him and he even started asking if he could get help himself – but what we then found is that getting psychological support for kids is near impossible – the mental health industry is in complete crisis. It took me two weeks of calling different services and clinics in our region to finally find a solution – I had to bang on doors several times and beg for cancellation appointments – this was making him even more anxious and upset that he couldn’t talk to anyone. I felt so incredibly sad for him – no matter how much money you have as a family, counselling support for kids is near impossible to get. I cannot imagine how hard it is for people on low incomes – I found only one government funded support out there. It is a dire situation!
Because he was in such a bad state with no support outcome in sight, we resorted to calling Kids Helpline one Saturday evening. I was absolutely amazed at the care and professionalism experienced – the counsellor talked to him for 40 minutes, validating his feelings, reassuring him and then offering some practical coping strategies. I was just incredibly grateful as he felt supported and responded to their advice.
Did you notice an improvement after his Kids Helpline consultation?
He definitely felt supported and the counsellor provided some practical advice to relieve his immediate anxiety – not a solution but an acute remedy for sure.
Recently a few doctors have spoken out about the need to reopen playgrounds and schools because of the long-term effects on our children. What are your thoughts on this?
Schools and playgrounds are even more important than ever now, but I don’t think they should open when there is risk of COVID-19 transmission so it is an incredibly hard balance. Hearing of teenagers now on ventilators to breath is terrifying.
I think kids should be allowed to exercise with one or two friends outdoors for an hour, even in Sydney right now – with one parent for younger children in tow – they need the exercise and the interaction. There is a huge issue of teachers being in the firing line – with Delta transmitting through children now, teachers are at high risk and there needs to be more support for expediting vaccines – many teachers are in their 20s and 30s and have not been allowed to get a vaccine. Teacher vaccines need immediate action country-wide as schools need to become a safe place for teachers and students. I also think student vaccines, as soon as it becomes safe should be a priority – the higher the vax rate in schools the quicker our kids can safely get back to routines – it is a sure fire way to fix some of the avoidable mental health issues
Training up of more paediatric counsellors however needs to be a huge priority – counselling as a first option before psychology is a quicker term solution to having full psych trained practitioners. Our experience firsthand with Kids Helpline shows how well highly-trained counsellors can make a very positive impact on kids who are struggling.
If you or a loved one needs to talk to someone, reach out to Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800.