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Face Masks, School and Mental Health

Before COVID-19 was a part of our everyday life, “wearing a mask” was a term in the mental health community regarding someone being fake, putting on a good show while internally not doing well or being dishonest.  Now, it is a necessary tool to keep ourselves and others safe from Covid and it is hard to remember what it was like not to wear it everytime we leave the house.  We now have amassed a nice array of colors and styles and they all reside in the tray of our car’s console.  They make regular trips to the washing machine and then get marched right back to their spot so they are ready and at hand for all trips outside our house bubble.  

Personally, we have never taken a mask break, even after being fully vaccinated, because we have children too young to receive the vaccine.  Also, we personally know several people who have had breakthrough infections, so masking up is a priority.  So it is kind of mind blowing that there are Governors who are actively banning masks in their states and inside schools where everyone from pre-K through 6th grade are ineligible to receive a COVID vaccine.  

I really do believe in the basic goodness of people so I know we can all do this. BUT still, there are many people in our country refusing to take the necessary steps to flatten the curve, and keep each other safe. People seem worried about their ‘rights being taken away’ by being asked to wear a mask. This simple and effective recommendation is being politicized at the expense of peoples’ lives. And it really shouldn’t be a debate. 

-Jennifer Aniston (via Instagram June 30, 2020 @jenniferaniston)

As a parent of a teenager who did not return to school last term, we have seen how essential in class learning is.  Sitting at a computer, in their room day in and day out kept them safe and healthy, but did it come at a cost to their mental health? We want nothing more than for things to return to “normal.”  But as a community of individuals who deal with mental health intimately, we know from personal experience that isolation is a trigger for depression, anxiety and a whole host of other concerns.  We are not judging or including those who CHOOSE to homeschool as we are sure you do a lot more than have your child sit in front of a computer for hours at a time.  But by and large, this is what remote learning largely boils down to.

We have to be careful and acknowledge just how big a change this has been for kids and families. We have taken away the context that supports their engagement in school and their overall well-being, plus they are dealing with the tremendous uncertainty about the future.

-Beth Doll, PhD, Professor of Educational Psychology 
University of Nebraska–Lincoln

So while a lot of us as caretakers, parents, guardians, etc. are chomping at the bit to send our children back to school, what can we do to make the transition back to school, with or without a mask mandate in place, more joyful and less stressful?

Talk to your child

Ask them if they have questions or concerns.  Ask them if they are scared, check in with them regarding their mental health .  If they are feeling scared and nervous and overall incredibly stressed talk to their pediatrician about counseling or if they could benefit from medication.  School counselors are an incredible resource, additionally many counselors will have a webpage on your school site with mental health resources available to you and your child.  

Teenagers especially can be very reticent to talk to you about issues they may be dealing with.  Getting them into counseling is an incredible gift you can give them.  They might not see it that way, but giving them access to an individual who will listen to whatever they are going through, give helpful commentary and insight and above all, keep everything they discuss private is exactly what they need.  

Anything that’s human is mentionable, and anything that is mentionable can be more manageable. When we can talk about our feelings, they become less overwhelming, less upsetting, and less scary. - Fred Rogers

Set a good example

Get vaccinated and explain to your kids why you are getting vaccinated.  If they are old enough to receive a vaccination themselves, talk to them about why you are getting them vaccinated.  Answer questions about what the vaccination does, how they might feel after the shot, and make sure to tell them how proud you are of them for protecting themselves and others.

Wear a mask, yes, it has been over a year, yes, we know they are hot and create acne, but people, they prevent the spread of COVID.  Think of it like this, the delta variant is like a crop duster during harvest, the spread is massive and wonders of wonders a 2 ply fashionable mask is its kryptonite!  

Again, we in the mental health community know about dealing with invisible illness, so to all of those who say it is a hoax, can’t see-it isn’t there, just rub a little oil on it, eat healthy to fix it, pray it away, ignore it, we know what to do, roll your eyes and do the opposite!  

Be understanding

Teachers and students have been through the ringer since late 2019, so be understanding of tired and cranky students and overwhelmed teachers.  During the first week, feed your kids when they get home, give them a hug, let them unwind and then put them to bed early.  Write students and teachers encouraging notes.  Send caffeine and little gifts to teachers on the regular.  Be understanding of grades that may not hit the mark, if things continue to slip, schedule tutoring.  Be proactive and understanding.

Thank you amazing community, together we will get through life, school, COVID and all other burdens that life throws our way!

Wishing you all nothing but the best!

Your vaxxed and masked team-Team SG


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