Goldie Hawn puts spotlight on kids struggling with mental health amid COVID-19

An alarming number of children struggle with mental health due to the pandemic.

January 28, 2022, 9:45 AM

Actress Goldie Hawn is putting a spotlight on how children are experiencing anxiety and depression amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

In an op-ed for USA Today, the Academy Award winner explored the mental health crisis facing Americans by taking a look at the current generation of kids and how the U.S. has failed them during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"The COVID era has changed our children's lives in far more real, tangible ways -- social distancing, school closures, daily mask use," Hawn wrote. "We will survive the COVID-19 pandemic, but I'm not sure we can survive an entire generation whose collective trauma sends them hobbling into adulthood. We need more research, more preventative care and more early intervention."

Hawn, who is also the founder and CEO of the charity, MindUp for Life, whose mission is to equip children with the social and emotional skills they need to lead smarter, healthier, happier and more productive lives, stressed how important it is that preventive care for youth mental health is properly funded and addressed now before a child's condition is ear-marked as "crisis care."

"We are not properly funding preventive care and early interventions that normalize the mental struggles every individual has at some level," Hawn wrote. "There are everyday tools for mental fitness, just as there are for exercise and healthy eating; we just don't teach them in any systematic way to our nation's children."

In October 2021, the American Academy of Pediatrics found "soaring rates of mental health challenges among children, adolescents, and their families over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic."

U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy also issued an advisory on the youth mental health crisis in December 2021, emphasizing that mental health challenges are present among children, adolescents and young adults.

"The COVID-19 pandemic further altered their experiences at home, school, and in the community, and the effect on their mental health has been devastating," Murthy said.

For many kids, like 11-year-old Anderson Fields, the pandemic has sent the anxiety soaring.

"I've just been feeling really sad and overwhelmed and down," he told "GMA." "I'm still hoping this will get over someday."

Anderson's mom, Nishea Clark, said that her son has felt uncomfortable going into stores with her and being in crowds.

"It's just not a way to grow up," she said.

Dr. Erica Lee, an Attending psychologist at Boston Children's Hospital, said Anderson's response to the COVID-19 pandemic is a common behavior she sees among kids when it comes to mental health.

"Kids are feeling more stressed. They're feeling more isolated," Lee said. "The disruption in schools and usual routines and activities has also been stressful for kids."

Clark said she often hears the phrase "kids are resilient" and that they will eventually overcome their mental health struggles, but she thinks banking on that expectation isn't fair.

"I think that's a little bit the lie we tell ourselves to get through the day," Fields said. "Yes, kids are resilient to normal things, not to this."

Instead of relying on the idea that kids are resilient and will get through the pandemic, Dr. Dave Anderson, a clinical psychologist with the Child Mind Institute said there are ways to support kids who are experiencing feelings of anxiety due to the pandemic.

"Resilience does not necessarily agree with the disturbing statistics," Anderson said. "As much as we might be encouraged that kids in adolescence can be resilient, we really have to be realistic about the fact that we need eyes on them."

Read on for ways to see how parents can make small changes to help their kids with mental health during the pandemic.

Warning signs for parents of young children

When looking at young kids, Anderson told "GMA" to "look out for changes in mood or daily habits where a kid might be sad or more anxious in situations where they weren't before -- or maybe their sleep or eating patterns have changed."

He also said, "irritability which is a hallmark of childhood depression where a kid may get much [angrier] or frustrated with parents or challenges."

"Lastly for young kids who may not be able to talk about their emotions as easily -- look out for stomachaches or headaches or vague body pain that may be their way of saying they're stressed."

Signs in teens

"Teenagers may show a little bit differently in the sense that we may see a little more withdrawal or isolation -- a little bit more withdrawn from family or friends," Anderson said. "At the same te we night see changes in their interest in activities and might lose interest or not report the same enjoyment of sports or maybe art activities. Lastly, we want to look out for drugs or alcohol or signs they may be using as a way to cope."

How parents can help their kids

"Parents can talk to their kids about what they're going through," Anderson recommended. "Promote wellness habits in the home, try to get more sleep, eat regularly, hydrate and move our bodies."

He also said to utilize support systems and break down stigma "by talking to teachers and coaches and particularly school-based mental health professionals might be able to get eyes and help and online resources."

The Child Mind Institute also has a new project with online resources for parents to use with kids and teens along with skill sheets for application at home.

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