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Rebecca Spartz

Mental health during COVID-19: How to recognize when you or a loved one may need help

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a large impact on our lives, which can lead to mental health challenges for both children and adults. Even in normal circumstances, many struggle with depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses for a variety of reasons.

Mental Health Awareness Month is observed each May, and has been since 1949. It’s a good time to review the telltale signs and symptoms of mental illness so you can recognize when friends, family members, and your children may need help.

Here's a summary of the most common symptoms, along with some tips on how to support your loved one. Note that symptoms may vary depending on the illness, circumstance and other factors:

Symptoms of mental illnesses in children

  • Changes in school performance
  • Excessive worry or anxiety, for instance fighting to avoid bed or school
  • Hyperactive behavior
  • Frequent nightmares
  • Frequent disobedience or aggression
  • Frequent temper tantrums

Symptoms of mental illnesses in adults

  • Excessive worrying or fear, or excessively sad or low
  • Confused thinking or problems concentrating and learning
  • Extreme mood changes, including uncontrollable “highs” or feelings of euphoria
  • Avoiding friends and social activities
  • Difficulties understanding or relating to other people
  • Changes in sleeping habits or feeling tired and low energy
  • Changes in eating habits such as increased hunger or lack of appetite
  • Overuse of substances like alcohol or drugs
  • Thinking about suicide

Speaking with family members and friends

If your loved one shows signs of mental illness, have an open and honest discussion with him or her about your concerns. You may not be able to convince them to seek professional care, but you can offer encouragement and support. You can also help your loved one find a qualified mental health professional and make an appointment.


Supporting your child

Your child's pediatrician can give you guidance on ways to best support your child and help him or her build resilience. Some children or adolescents may need more time and space to express their feelings. Some may do better with gradual conversations and other activities besides talking, such as painting or drawing to express themselves and manage stress. Others might be more comfortable with direct conversations or activities. Talking to a trusted adult can help ease their concerns and plan what the next steps should be.

Here are some additional resources that may help: