Adapting as a family and knowing when mental health care is needed. 

My previous post covered how to help your high school or college student deal with the sense of loss they’re experiencing because of the impact of the coronavirus on their lives. This post looks at how to deal with the impact of COVID-19 on your family, and your home life, plus how to know if your child is struggling emotionally and where to find help for them.

Again, I asked Lisa C. DeLuca, LCSW-R, a psychotherapist in private practice, to answer some of the questions I think you have. In addition to her work as a mental health professional, she’s the mom of two college students, a sophomore and a senior.

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With everyone, parents and kids, home all day, how do you manage the stress that creates along with the fluctuating stress level of each person in the household?

Finding peace yourself is the best way. Engage in your spiritual or meditative practices if you have them, or whatever feeds your soul. Get enough sleep, eat right and exercise. Allow others in the house to do the same even if their way is different than yours.

Identify things you or others in the house have wanted to do and do them, or do things that you know are pleasing to others in the house. Love each other. Those who wait for external factors to have joy miss the joy that is right in front of them. Joy is here today. Find it.

One way to do this is at the end of each day, ask yourself what was your “magic moment”? I found this in a journal I was using called the Daily Sidekick Journal by a great company called Habit Nest. The first time I did this, I thought hard until I came up with a response. On various days I wrote: My warm, excessively comfortable bed I was able to sleep in. The smell of the air when I took the dog out that night. The way my kid smiled that day.

Joy is here now, even in the midst of this chaos. Find it! Express it out loud. Share it.

If a parent has lost their job or been furloughed temporarily, how do you approach the discussion of the financial impact on your family?

Some students will be out of touch with the family’s financial situation and want to start spending money on things because they have nothing else to do. To a stressed out parent who’s been laid off, this can trigger a desire to rage about how spoiled and selfish the children are. We have all probably felt this way about our kids at one time or another.

In reality, they don’t know the state of our finances so we have to tell them. The way to tell them is to just tell them, but don’t dump all your worries in their lap. Be clear about what you expect from them. If you tell people bad news and give them no control or ability to help, it just causes worry. So if you are telling them not to spend money or ask for things at least they know how they can help.

Many families will need their children to work and many companies are hiring right now, especially supermarkets and pharmacies. This could be too risky if there are vulnerable people living in the house. A student might be afraid of exposure to the virus, which isn’t unreasonable because everyone’s risk-tolerance is different. As the parent(s), you’ll need to decide what’s best for your family, though it’s important for each person to find some sense of control in all this chaos. More control equals less anxiety. So brainstorm and work together. Some people are finding work from home opportunities.

[AVB: If your FAFSA no longer accurately represents your family’s financial situation, contact the financial aid office of your student’s college and explain what’s changed. You cannot adjust your FAFSA at this point, so it is important to reach out to the school directly.]

How can a parent help their teen and/or young adult deal with the fear of the unknown, like when this will end, when they’ll be able to see grandparents or friends again, or if they’ll get sick and how bad it’ll be.

Let them express the fears they might have and just listen without judging them. Talk about ways that you’ve dealt with fear of the unknown, in a way that’s not preaching. For example, “This is what has helped me.” If this is an area of life you still struggle with yourself, now is the time to lead by example and look for inspiration and help for yourself.

We know that the calm presence of others around us goes a long way toward feeling calm ourselves. But you can’t teach what you don’t know. So carve out the time and space you need to be calm. Notice and experience joy even in the crisis, and take very good care of yourself.

The news is filled with examples of people helping others and innovation around possible cures and vaccines. Share these with your family. Assure them that you’ll be there for each other and that you will all get through whatever comes your way together.

How do you know when your high school or college student needs to talk to a mental health professional? Where do you find one?

If you see any changes in your child’s normal behavior, such as secrecy or excessive isolation, eating too much or too little, sleeping too much or too little, recurring irritability, frequent anger outbursts, this could be cause for concern and certainly calls for one or a series of conversations.

If your child is not carrying out daily tasks like school and chores, isolating themselves from family and even not connecting with friends online, and not showering and grooming, this is concerning as well. If your child is excessively teary or very down on themselves, apologizing too much or expressing self-hate or thoughts of death or suicide, get help right away.

Parental instincts may be the most important tool you have. If you feel that your child is unsafe, call 911 or take them to the nearest emergency room. Hospitals with psychiatric units should still be taking patients through the ER or you can call first. Keep eyes on your child 24/7 if you truly think they are in danger and get help.

For non-emergency help, most mental health practitioners are operating via video conferencing and many insurance companies have been directed to pay for these visits. You can go through your insurance company, do your own search online or ask for referrals from doctors and friends. Clinical social workers, psychologists and counselors do therapy but do not prescribe medication.

Mental health professionals who can prescribe psychotropic medications are Psychiatrists or Psychiatric Nurse Practitioners (PNP). Some family doctors also are willing to prescribe these medications but many feel it’s best to go to a specialist, such as a Psychiatrist or PNP. When it comes to emergencies and suicidal thoughts, it’s best to go to the hospital and then follow up with a specialist.

These are unique times for all of us. Hopefully these two posts offer some useful information to help you support your family and take care of yourself through the challenges you’re experiencing as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.