Lexington experts on child trauma, how to cope with loss, anxiety

LEXINGTON, Ky. (WTVQ) – The Fayette County Public School community, family and friends are still mourning the loss of the city’s first student to die of COVID-19 – 15-year-old Christopher Gordon Jr. , known as CJ.

Four students under the age of 19 have died in Kentucky since the pandemic hit, according to the state, and 46 school employees in K-through-12 have died, according to the educator group ‘Kentucky 120 United.’

So, how are students coping with these deaths and how can parents help?

The CDC says in 2019, one in three students in the U.S. reported persistent sadness or hopelessness, and early indicators point to the pandemic making that problem worse.

“Children and adolescents are experiencing almost a doubling of anxiety and depressions since the covid pandemic began,” Dr. Michelle Martell, University of Kentucky’s director of clinical training and child psychologist, said. 

And it’s for the reasons most would expect – dealing with loss and shifts from what’s normal. However, she finds that despite some anxiety, most kids are still happy to be back in school.

“I’ve heard a lot of comments that things are so much better now that they’re back – that they’re really happy to be able to be back because it is more normal,” Martell said.

She said some kids do worry about safety, and she offers advice to reduce stress and relieve conflicting thoughts about being in school.

“Try not to worry about the risk to them necessarily, but rather we engage in these safety precautions to protect others, like older adults, who are a lot more vulnerable, or other people with health conditions,” Martell said.

Psychologist Shambra Mulder said kids can handle more curve balls than most adults think. The key is to talk to them.

“Children are resilient and adaptable,” Mulder said. “There’s gonna be some kids, especially younger kids, who never lost someone before, so I think that’s going to require some conversation instead of just assuming that kid doesn’t recognize that person isn’t there any more.”

Mulder said many kids these days are more open to expressing their feelings, but not all are, so be on the lookout for signs of depression, like avoiding school.

“We’re seeing some kids acting out that probably weren’t acting out, and it may be in an effort to avoid going to school,” Mulder said.

Overall, Mulder and Martell say the pandemic will have negative long term effects, but a strong positive is the renewed focus on children’s mental health.

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