Children battle stress and anxiety as pandemic stretches into 2022

The pandemic takes its toll on children's mental health
Published: Dec. 30, 2021 at 8:28 PM EST
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - The past few years have been stressful for many as people adapt to changing environments through the course of the pandemic. Children have felt that stress first-hand through the transition between online and in-person learning and the nature of ever-evolving social media platforms.

New Hanover County Health and Human Services was recently honored for its work in children’s mental health. The School Mental Health Program received a $10,000 grant as part of the 2021 NC GlaxoSmithKline Foundation Child Health Recognition Award.

“It can be used for programming, for training, for material needs to use with therapy,” said New Hanover County Health and Human Services Director Donna Fayko. “Our clinicians have doll houses and puppets and, just, instructional material so the children can feel comfortable in their environment when they’re disclosing any trauma or concerns that they may have.”

School therapists in the county have noticed an increase in the number of young students with heightened stress since the start of the pandemic.

“In speaking to the therapists and their supervisors, they have noted an increase in anxiety and depression,” said Fayko.

According to Fayko, county schools saw a more-than 10 percent increase in the number of students seeking help in the 2020-21 school year compared to the year prior.

“Typically ADHD, oppositional defiant disorder, things like that are typical behaviors identified in teens and younger children,” Fayko said. “But, they are seeing a heightened degree of anxiety, especially during the COVID year.”

External factors in the community, including a shooting at New Hanover High School and shots fired at Long Leaf Park, have also contributed to higher stress levels for students. The Sheriff’s Office says those traumatizing events can be difficult for kids to process.

“We never, ever want children to have to deal with adult situations,” said Lt. Jerry Brewer with the New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office. “Unfortunately, sometimes they do, whether someone has broken the law or any of the other things going on. So, if you ever see something, say something.”

The county hopes the $10,000 reward will help to boost its mental health services across all public elementary and middle schools.

“COVID — we saw a lot of toxic stress among families and we saw the anxiety heightened with children, but then the COVID funding with the American Rescue Plan also provided an opportunity,” Fayko said. “And, so, we took advantage of the opportunity to try and meet the needs of the children in our community.”

For a list of mental health resources for students and families at New Hanover County elementary and middle schools, click here.

For a list of other health resources, including mental resources for adults, click here.

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