Please, just make it go away.
‘This too shall pass,” is a well-worn truism that most of us have invoked during these past six months of pandemic. Something about saying it can be helpful – maybe as an appeal to our reserves of resilience, a reminder of hard times we’ve coped with during our lives, or even to the inspirational power of the struggles of those we admire. At some point, all this will be a memory.
The problem with this pandemic, apart from the dread of illness, is that there’s really no clear sense about when it will end and what life will look like afterwards. You may be an expert at perspective – maybe your family members survived the Holocaust, or you yourself lived through 9/11 in New York, a life-threatening illness, the death of a loved one, or any of the myriad catastrophic national or personal disasters that are inevitable and constant accompaniments to being alive. The need to navigate difficult and unanticipated events is the one certain thing about the condition of being human – let’s pause for a moment to think of the millions whose lives are being devastated by fires in California, Washington and Oregon, as we write this.
Even so, there is no major precedent in our lifetimes for a global and largely invisible crisis that closes schools, paralyzes normal, simple interactions and destroys livelihoods. And because of this, many of us have found ourselves mentally ill-prepared for an extreme level of uncertainty. Levels of anxiety worldwide were already at an unprecedented high. A major British study just published described what the lead researcher termed: “a massive increase, a profound increase” in anxiety in adults – particularly younger adults – which saw rates trebling in a decade. Anxiety stems from a sense of powerlessness and insecurity. And this study took place before the pandemic.
Think about how much harder this is for children and young people. Not only do children lack control over their lives, but they also absorb everything around them, in particular, their parents’ thoughts, feelings and worries (not to mention what they read on their phones). Some kids will breeze through, but many will suffer greatly, often silently. And school – the other constant in children’s lives – has been more disrupted than anyone could have imagined. The stress for parents experiencing their children’s damaged education is profound. But while we all long for a return to in-person school, the reality is likely to be – even with the best will in the world – extremely messy and uncomfortable, for a good long time, with partial openings, inevitable closures for outbreaks of illness, and deficiencies in testing, tracing and adherence to protocols. The only certainty is that nothing is certain.
So, take some practical steps, the first of which is to be aware. Understand all the signs of anxiety in ourselves and our kids, and be on high alert for them. And secondly, be proactive and preventive in supporting mental wellness. Nothing fights powerlessness like a list, a plan, some objectives. Everyone’s list will be different, but we urge families to be open-minded to all kinds of activities, adjustments to home life, communication and listening strategies, therapies and practices, and to be tireless in monitoring their impact and our shifting moods.
And seek out resources, of which we have a formidable array in this community. Our specialists include Aspen Strong, Mind Springs Health and the Hope Center, but our non-profits, local government services, schools, law enforcement and faith-based organizations are also engaged in different ways to support our mental health and that of our children. Kids First and Aspen Family Connections are here to connect families with preschoolers and school-aged children with help to find providers, activities, funding and in exploring and navigating options. There are webinars, articles and access to fantastic resources – like the Mind Springs Health Back to School toolkit, recently published in English and Spanish.
And let’s not forget community itself. If ever there was a time to build our support networks of family, friends and neighbors it is now. We can’t make the pandemic go away but at very least, we are in it together. Reach out.