The COVID pandemic may be resulting in childhood pathology. One of the essential roles of a psychotherapist is distinguishing between dysfunctional and expected behavior. Because people can only do the best they can with their resources, it is necessary to identify dysfunctional strategies from mental health disorders.
People often come to therapy after self-diagnosing using the many available worldwide website clinicians. Many of these websites offer a series of symptoms that point to a specific diagnosis. What is often missing from these websites is the tools to rule out normal responses to events.
During the past two pandemic years, life has changed. Although children are resilient and adaptable, some children are struggling through the pandemic. There is a lot of conflicting information about the pandemic, and children are confused. Parents mustn't pathologize their children's behavior without the assistance of a mental health professional who may be able to rule out a severe mental health disorder.
Notwithstanding a traumatic event, very often, childhood remains the best time for people's lives. Childhood innocence is the proverbial anthesis to the perfect vision of Hindsight after a wrong decision. The former is when you don't know better, and it feels good. Hindsight often reveals that you should have known better but chose unwisely. Society's adults must acknowledge this generation of children whose lives have been interrupted. Contrary to popular belief, this is not the best time of many children's lives; instead, it is a time of uncertainty.
The school milieu, traditionally a stable community in a child's life, is no longer consistent. Children attend school for a few days, only to return home after yet another exposure notifications. This cycle of attending school for a few days and 10 days out of school is disruptive. The structure that is critical in a child's development is non-existent. Children are sad and confused.
Parents fear that something is wrong with their children because they "are not their normal selves." Parents bring their children to therapy. They fear that their children are suffering from a mental health disorder because they are moody, angry, are not performing at the academic standard they used to and have lost their desire to socialize. Parents often fear that their children are clinically depressed.
Very often, young children cannot materialize what is missing in their lives; they know that there is a void and this unnamed space makes them sad sometimes. After parents look up these symptoms on the internet, they conclude that their child suffers from bipolar spectrum disorder.
According to the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fifth edition (DSM-5), bipolar is a spectrum disorder. It includes a group of conditions that cause extreme fluctuation in a person's mood, energy, and overall ability to function. People with the illness may exhibit symptoms of mania and depression, alternately. Manic episodes are characterized by at least one week of mood disturbance, characterized by elation or irritability. They may exhibit the reduced need for sleep, excessive talking, racing thoughts, increased level of goal-focused activities, and excessive pleasurable activities such as gambling, buying, sexual behavior, all of which have negative consequences in Hindsight.
To make the diagnosis for bipolar spectrum disorder, the client must have at some point experienced the other end of the spectrum, or pole, a depressive episode. During this period, the individual experiences the inability to experience pleasure (anhedonia), poor or increased appetite and weight fluctuations, insomnia or excessive sleep, a loss of energy with fatigue, suicide ideation, or suicidal behavior.
The manic and depressive episodes may interfere with daily functioning, such as work, school, and household responsibilities. The National Institute of Mental Health reports three percent of adolescents between the ages of 13 and 18 to suffer from the disorder. Many children who may come into therapy are confused, sad, and looking for structure, but they do not suffer from a clinical condition.
Parents can help by increasing routines outside of school. To reintroduce structure into the week, parents can schedule events for each day: Sunday Fun Day, McDonald's Monday, Taco Tuesday, Wacky Wednesday, Thanksgiving Thursday, Fish Fry Friday. The type of activity is not essential; it is the planning that will provide structure. The activities do not have to be time-consuming. It could be a 30-minute walk Wednesday, 15-minute talk Tuesday.
The goal is to increase contact with children during this time of uncertainty. Remember, kids, do the best they can at any given time with the resources they have. Parents have many opportunities to increase their child's resource supply.
National Institute of Mental Health, https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/bipolar-disorder
PSYCOMPRO. Bipolar Disorder DSM Diagnostic Criteria: Bipolar DSM-5 Diagnostic Criteria for Professionals, https://pro.psycom.net/assessment-diagnosis-adherence/bipolar-disorder.
• Lisa Hill, Ph.D., is an associate professor in criminal justice at California State University, East Bay and a licensed marriage and family therapist. She also worked for county and federal probation departments for three decades and wrote a book based on that experience. She and her husband live in Tracy and have four children. Contact her at email@example.com.