Psychology experts at the University of Colorado Boulder teamed up with The University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital to host a webinar Wednesday, where a panel of mental health experts addressed the many challenges different groups of people are facing during the COVID-19 pandemic. The event was open to the public, with a Q&A towards the end.
The virtual panel was moderated by Aditi Subramaniam, Ph.D. neuroscientist and freelance science writer. The guest speakers, including June Gruber, Steven Berkowitz and Kendra Parris, spoke about the implications of COVID-19 on the mental health of children, teenagers and adults.
COVID-19 has changed the way people around the world live, which can lead to negative consequences on mental health. According to Journalist’s Resource, “anxiety, depression, grief and fear (have) spread across communities.” Everyone has a different way of coping; several people around the world have lost jobs or loved ones due to the disease, which could take a toll on a person’s mental health.
Subramaniam and the guest speakers began by discussing the challenges of being a parent at this time. Most parents are used to dropping their children off and occasionally helping their children with schoolwork. However, parents are likely having to teach their children more than they are used to because virtual classes tend to be more challenging for some people.
Before directing a question to Dr. Parris about how parents should communicate with their children about the pandemic, Subramaniam mentioned that her three-year-old daughter seems “blissfully unaware of anything pandemic related,” but noted that young children can often pick up on parental stress.
“When we’re thinking about our youngest children, we know that they are not cognitively advanced enough to understand aspects of the pandemic in (a) way that older teenagers and adults do,” Dr. Parris, a psychologist at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, explained. “When we communicate with younger children, we want to clear up any misconceptions that they may have… (and) speak in very simple and basic terms.”
When it comes to teenagers, however, Dr. Parris says that being honest and open with them is key. Though teens are not as willing to communicate their experiences or feelings, parents must still ensure their child knows that they are always welcome to talk to them if they ever feel the need to.
Since teenagers are one of the most active social media users, Dr. Parris said that it is also important to clear up any misconceptions they may have since social media tends to spread misinformation, which may lead to fear and anxiety.
Subramaniam later asked Dr. Berkowitz, a psychiatry professor at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, how and why the pandemic has been a unique challenge for experts.
“It’s not just the pandemic, Berkowitz explained. “We have social justice issues… multiple natural disasters… all of this weighs very heavily.”
He also mentioned that it is important for parents to talk about every issue and not only focus on one, saying that while “guidelines are great,” our current moment is “unprecedented” and “we have to cover such a large range of issues.”
Subramaniam later switched the topic to ask Dr. Gruber, an associate professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of Colorado Boulder, about positive attitudes taken to the extremes. This essentially means that people suppress their real emotions because they worry about what other people may think.
“Our emotions are important sources of information about the world,” Gruber said. “Positive emotions signal opportunities in the environment.”
Though positivity is important, Dr. Gruber says that people often try to suppress negative emotions and replace them with positive emotions, which can lead to poor mental health.
“Our research has shown that when people are experiencing positive emotions … in (a) context that (is) not necessarily positive,” Dr. Gruber said, “they may be… improperly attuned to the world around them.”
“It’s okay to feel stressed, it’s okay to feel anxious,” Dr. Gruber said. “That’s our… emotions telling us what’s happening in the world around us.”
While people asking the questions at the end of the panel remained anonymous, most questions were asked by parents concerned about their children – from elementary school to college students. The guest speakers were able to give the parents advice and guidance on ways they may be able to help their sons or daughters.
Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Alexandra Llorca and firstname.lastname@example.org.
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