Experts watch for child depression during remote learning

Posted at 12:52 PM, Sep 04, 2020

With a majority of public school districts offering remote learning this fall, parents and teachers are ramping up online educational tools and resources for kids. Many are also focusing just as much on kids' mental health.

"It's going to be so much harder to build those relationships while you're on a virtual platform. What are we doing to start the year off with expectations of what students should do and how are they going to react with each other?" said Dr. Christina Conolly, a school psychologist in Maryland and a member of the National Association of School Psychologists.

Dr. Conolly says with so many children missing that social interaction this fall, it's important for educators and parents to be intentional when it comes to keeping an eye on students' mental health.

"Anything we can do to help students engage with each other, bring a socialized setting that is supervised, is great," said Dr. Conolly.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. Conolly, like other parents, put major restrictions on screen time. Now, she says many of those limitations have gone out the window. Speaking about her own daughter, she says safe, online interaction is crucial to children's social development.

"Right now, if she's on there spending a couple hours gaming with my neighbors because she can't go outside and play with my neighbors, well I'm like 'OK, it's helping her with her emotional health.' Because human beings need human interaction," said Dr. Conolly.

Child suicide rates are up nationwide and calls into the National Suicide Prevention hotlines are skyrocketing, Dr. Conolly said. Many children who didn't have mental health struggles before the pandemic are finding themselves coping with them now and those who already had difficulties are getting worse.

She has advice for parents who are concerned about their children getting depressed because of a lack of social interaction.

"I would say a number of things. First, talk to the staff at your school. You can talk to the teacher, administration, psychologist or counselor in the building. If you're concerned, they can talk with your student," said Dr. Conolly.

Teressa Ruspi is a parent of three and runs the LRJ Foundation, a mental health and wellness organization that partners with schools in Georgia, Virginia and Pennsylvania to teach kids about the importance of social emotional health. Ruspi is putting her own children's mental health at the top of her mind as her three head back to school virtually.

"I'm really trying to hone in and be really mindful of their emotions right now and what's triggering those emotions. How to balance those emotions, how to have those conversations with them, so they can feel comfortable talking to me about what's frustrating with them," said Ruspi.

Ruspi says her kids are FaceTiming frequently with classmates and even doing occasional playdates with families who are taking similar precautions from COVID-19 as they are.

"Kids can get kind of complacent and used to their new surroundings so now that they have been removed and been remote and disconnected a lot, we want to make sure that they don't stay disconnected," Ruspi said.

The good news, is that now that school is back in session, many parents will have access to free sessions with a school psychologist or counselor. An extra resource that could be an extra boost to keeping children happy and mentally healthy during virtual schooling.