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Keep mental health in check

CHRISTINE SCHIMMEL

WHEELING — Families challenged with adapting to major changes to their daily routines in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic are being urged to make sure stress and anxiety are properly managed through the crisis.

With university and college dorms closing, many parents find themselves welcoming college students home from campuses sooner than expected. High school and grade school students are home as well. The majority of these students are setting up home “classrooms” to finish courses online, and some parents are having to work from home as well. In a number of cases, family members find themselves out of work because of mandated closures of certain businesses.

Overall, it’s a stressful time for everyone, and mental health experts indicate that a full house during these times of crisis can create an environment that could bring about more problems than just a case of cabin fever.

“If your children ask questions, try your best to give accurate information without providing in-depth details that might frighten them,” said Christine Schimmel, associate professor and program coordinator of the school counseling services at West Virginia University’s College of Education and Human Services. “Statements like ‘we are doing our part by staying home to try not to spread the virus to your classmates and our older citizens’ tend to be helpful.”

Although college campuses are closing, many services are still being offered beyond online classrooms, including mental health services.

This week, the administration at Ohio University Eastern announced to parents and students that counseling services will continue to be offered to enrolled students, although in-person appointments have been discontinued.

Like on most campuses, counseling services are offered for free and do not require the use of health insurance.

“During this trying time, Ohio Eastern wants to do what it can to provide as much student support as possible, while maintaining appropriate social distancing,” said Jennifer Kellner-Muscar, manager of advising and retention at OUE. “The importance of students maintaining their mental health so they can pursue their education cannot be emphasized enough.”

Parents also can help in this role at home, Schimmel added, and family communication is key in light of the fact that children’s normal routines have been completely disrupted by indefinite school closures. Although parents and caregivers may struggle to communicate with their children during a time of uncertainty, Schimmel said transparent communication between caregivers and their children is key in mitigating anxiety about the pandemic.

To temper anxiety and fear about the pandemic, Schimmel recommended parents and guardians take action to place logical limits on all screen time.

“I would encourage parents and caregivers to do their best to not express fear and panic in front of children, especially young children,” she said. “One way to reduce levels of stress and anxiety in all of us is to turn off the TV or reduce access to news via television or social media.”

Now that spring has sprung, parents also should make sure their children have plenty of opportunities for exercise and play while they are home from school, Schimmel noted.

“Committing to allowing your children to get fresh air and exercise can help them ease anxiety and stress,” she said. “Many children can process their fears and concerns through their play. White play dates are discouraged, letting children play is still an important coping skill.”

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