PUSD mental health clinicians offer guidance for trying times

Sarah Belle Lin

The Wellness Center's on-campus site at PHS is located in the 30s building next to the library.

PUSD Wellness Center clinicians Alisa Crovetti and Amy Hazer know that families and students are struggling with the new stay-at-home restrictions and the worrisome state of the world. In the following letter to the community, they offer support to help deal with mental health challenges.

Dear PUSD Families and Staff and the Piedmont Community,

Given these challenging times of uncertainty, individual and collective loss, and abrupt disruption to our normal lives, we would like to offer our support and share our thoughts about the mental health-related challenges of quarantine and some ideas for how to manage them.  Those of you who are staff at and/or have children at PMS, MHS, or PHS may already know us, but many in our community may not. We are PUSD mental health clinicians who enjoy the privilege of supervising the mental health services provided through our wonderful Wellness Center, which is located at PHS and provides free, confidential mental health counseling for our middle and high school students. 

While research shows that quarantine experiences may lead to increased risk for anxiety, depression, substance abuse, and post-traumatic stress disorder in some individuals, we want to emphasize the great variation in how individuals respond and cope and, more importantly, that research points to many effective strategies for mitigating the negative psychological impacts of quarantine.  

It is important to know when and how to ask for help.

Although a range of feelings and behaviors are normal and expected during this time (see below), if these feelings are seriously interfering with your or your child(ren)’s ability to cope or causing worsening of pre-existing mental health challenges, it is time to ask for help. For example, while it is normal for adolescents to engage in some self-isolation in their rooms during this time, excessive self-isolation accompanied by other symptoms may indicate a need for intervention.  

The changes that accompany quarantine do not impact all people in similar ways.

  • If you are an adult or child who is generally flexible, easy going, and has an easy time taking life moment to moment, you are likely much less distressed than if you are an individual who thrives under a sense of control and enjoys a predictable environment.  
  • If you are an adult or child who prefers one on one social interactions and are generally introverted, shy, or socially anxious, staying at home with the family might be experienced as a welcome break for you. While if you are an individual who thrives in large social gatherings and are generally an extrovert, quarantine may at times feel unbearable.
  • Adolescents, given their developmental need for intense social connection and physical closeness with friends alongside the need for individuation from parents may be having a particularly difficult time in quarantine compared to our younger children. Adolescents, who often already feel the “weight of the world on their shoulders,” may be feeling particularly hopeless, depressed, and overwhelmed.
  • Our students with learning disabilities, ADHD, and other neurodevelopmental disabilities will struggle significantly more with distance learning than our neurotypical students.  Parents of these students are likely to experience higher levels of stress related to “home schooling” than parents of neurotypical children.
  • If you are an adult or child with a pre-existing mental health condition, particularly anxiety, depression or substance use problems,  this may be a particularly difficult time for you.
  • If you are a parent of a student or a student who is in a milestone grade (5th, 8th, or 12th, college senior), you are likely experiencing grief related to loss of important rituals and celebrations that have been anticipated for many years.  
  • The quarantine experience and knowledge of the devastation caused by COVID-19 requires grieving by all of us, and we know that grieving is a distinctly individual experience that follows a varied timeline across individuals.  Normal reactions include shock and denial, depression, and anger. One thing is certain: it can be painful, and feeling that pain is a necessary step in healing and moving on. More on grief and COVID-19 here

All parents can support their child(ren)’s mental health.

  • Take care of your own mental health so you are best equipped to support your child(ren).
  • Do not confuse your own reactions and feelings with those of your child(ren). You may be feeling extremely stressed,  while your child may be coping reasonably well, and, conversely, you may be feeling reasonably calm and settled while your child may be feeling very anxious and uncertain.  Do not make assumptions about what they are feeling. Not making assumptions about our child(ren)’s inner worlds is challenging for all of us. Talk it out with other adults if you are having a hard time distinguishing your child(ren)’s reactions from your own.
  • Be available to LISTEN to your child and show understanding and empathy for what they express. 
  • Do not feel pressure to take away their painful feelings by making false promises or giving unrealistic reassurance.  Accept that your child may need to work through painful feelings in their own way. Accept that your child may be coping quite well.
  • Be available to answer questions, but only to the extent the child is asking. Do not offer more information than is being asked for and be sure to offer information at a developmentally appropriate level.  Protect children from unnecessary exposure to media coverage of COVID-19.
  • Take school performance pressure off yourself and your child. We are all adjusting to distance learning: teachers, parents, students.  This does not need to be perfect. Remember that the broader life lessons being learned right now may be more important than a few months of school-based skills.  Young children learn valuable lessons through unstructured play, helping with chores, baking, planning with menus, etc. In this time they are also learning how to manage unstructured time and boredom and it’s okay if they take breaks from structured learning. For older children, this experience holds so many opportunities for reflection about society and themselves and opportunities for personal growth.

Final Thoughts…

  • Remind yourself: This is temporary and you can get through this. Think about other hard moments in your own life, and how your own strength and resilience helped pull you through.
  • Research suggests that individuals fare better with quarantine when they perceive it as a voluntary altruistic action they are taking in order to help others. Focus on this as a choice you are making. Remind yourself that you are doing your part to protect our healthcare workers/first responders and others who must work outside of their homes, our elderly and medically vulnerable, and the long-term functioning of our society. You are making sacrifices, and in doing so, have power to make a difference!
  • If you have time and mental energy, and it makes you happy, find ways to help other people, like reaching out to seniors or those living alone, volunteering at a local food bank, delivering Meals on Wheels to seniors (Contra Costa County Food Bank and Alameda County Community Food Bank, Meals on Wheels), or donating blood (Red Cross). Get out your sewing machine or borrow one and learn how to make masks.
  • If you are feeling powerless, think about all the capable people – scientists, doctors, and others – working hard to figure out how to slow down the virus and cure it.

We wish you all health, resilience, and growth in this challenging time.

Sincerely,

Alisa Crovetti, Ph.D.
Licensed Psychologist
acrovetti@piedmont.k12.ca.us | 510-882-2771

Amy Hazer, LCSW
Licensed Clinical Social Worker
ahazer@piedmont.k12.ca.us

3 thoughts on “PUSD mental health clinicians offer guidance for trying times

  1. So glad you found the letter helpful. I want to point out that there are links throughout the letter to the resources we mention, but not all are clearly indicated in bold. If you run your cursor over the text, the links will highlight as you scroll over them, e.g., there are links to mask making instructions, the research article we mention at the beginning, and volunteer opportunities.

    Alisa

  2. Thank you very much for this wonderful, concise and deep article. I’m sharing it with lots of friends and family.

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