World Teen Mental Wellness Day
It's World Teen Mental Wellness Day, and we want to a find a way to help our community. In honor of protecting future generations, we're taking the opportunity to share some valuable perspective on helping teens mentally cope with Type 1 Diabetes. When thinking of resources, we immediately thought of Cindey Orley. Cindy is a top blogger in Ohio, and manages Akron Ohio Moms. She also happens to have a diabetic son and daughter. Read on to learn about their experiences, and what has helped her, and her family. Thank you for sharing with us, Cindy!
Cindy's Take on Mental Health For Teens with Type 1
Psychiatric Times reports 22.3% of youth and 43.7% of teens have clinical depressive symptoms during COVID-19 – that’s almost double pre-pandemic numbers. Kids and teens are feeling isolated from friends, miss their normal routines (my kids WANT and look forward to going to school every day), and worry that we’ll never go back to normal. The physical distancing, masking, stay-at-home orders, virtual schools, cancelled sports, fear of getting or spreading the virus, and cancelled everything-else is taking its toll on our children. There is a difference between sadness, disappointment and clinical depression, but they should all be taken seriously, especially for T1D children and teens who already have added stress in their lives. Spotting depression in kids and teens can be anything from irritability, to stomach aches, to loss of interest and fatigue. Find a full list of symptoms and how to spot in toddlers, kids, and teens here. I have two teens with T1D, and they are completely different in diabetes management and managing the pandemic. I’ll share what has helped us, and what can hopefully help you, navigate mental health through a pandemic.
In March of 2020, our schools shut down and remained closed until they went back part time in September. We are fortunate to live in the woods, next to a large park. My son, daughter and I took hours-long hikes even in the cold of winter, into the rain of spring, heat of summer, and back to cooler weather in Ohio. We learned a new skill – mushroom hunting and cooking! We know the hills, streams, valleys, plants, and trees by heart now. During this time, my son found a new love for the outdoors. In addition to our daily hikes, he took up bushcrafting – built a 16x20’ cabin from fallen down and hand-cut trees, hand crafts spoons and bowls from trees in our yard (even entered them into an art contest), and has plans to spend a week in April living off the wild edibles of the woods as a challenge (+ sugar for blood sugar control). He’s thriving during the pandemic. My daughter, on the other hand, is having a slightly more difficult time coping. To address it, we came up with a plan that involves many of the ideas below, and it has made a world of difference for her.
Helpful Ways to Fight Depression During Pandemic:
Make time daily to check in with your kids to see how they are doing. Don’t do what I do and just ask “how are you doing with everything” because they can say “fine” and the conversation is over. Talk with your child where you won’t be likely interrupted. You can start by talking about your feelings about what you miss, or what makes you feel better.
“Forced sedentary behavior might negatively influence exercise programs and degree of glycemic control.” [Laddu, 2020] The pandemic has made more of us sedentary with stay-at-home orders, virtual school, cancelled team sports, and social distanced measures. A sedentary life isn’t good for mental health or diabetes management. Exercise can be used to prevent and even treat depression, as it impacts our serotonin chemical levels. Find an activity daily to get your child moving and active – hiking, walking the dog, biking, backyard sports, dancing to music, gardening, sledding, play minute to win it active games inside, exercise together, etc.
Getting out in nature relieves depression and reduces stress and anxiety. Being outside actually lowers stress-associated chemical cortisol. Unstructured outdoor play builds confidence, creativity, gets kids moving, reducing stress, and helps manage blood sugar levels. Consider hiking, fishing, visiting a creek or beach, camping, or playground visit. Make a day of it and bring a picnic. Let your child plan a trip so they are more invested and motivated. Find your local forest here.
Plan activities with your child or teen that can be done now and after social distancing is over. It feels good to plan and accomplish those plans. Learn a new skill together (many music, dance, art, and cooking classes that were once only in person are now taught online and often free), plan a talent show and invite family and friends to watch virtually, organize something to benefit another person or group, plan a day trip you can take as a family, plan a celebration or party for when social distancing is over.
One of the hardest things for my family is not seeing friends and family during the pandemic. We are still very cautious, and don’t visit inside homes (which is difficult when it is 14° outside) but not impossible. Engage with people virtually through FaceTime/Zoom, host a viewing party to watch your favorite movie with people, play video games virtually together, mail letters and drawings to family, have kids read on the phone or online to grandparents, have grandparents read kids a bedtime story on the phone, or have a video chat party with a fun theme. There are many ways to visit virtually but when in-person is needed, bundle up and visit people with masks and socially distanced outside. Sledding and winter hiking works great as socially distanced. Don’t live in isolation, we are meant to be connected to others.
TAKE CARE OF MENTAL HEALTH
Don’t skip on visits to your pediatrician or endocrinologist, they can screen for mental health. Maintaining good mental and emotional health is necessary for good diabetes management. If your child is older, let them fill out the paperwork at the doctor’s office on their mental health – something I did poorly until this year. Don’t assume your child is ok.
JOIN ONLINE COMMUNITY
Online peer support in T1DM has been shown to improve psychological outcomes; reducing feelings of isolation and improve self-care behavior (Naslund& Aschbrenner et. al).
Connecting with people living with T1D who understand what it means to live with the disease daily can make all the difference. There are online diabetes communities on every imaginable platform (forums, youtube, facebook, blogs, instagram, etc). There are communities for caregivers, teens, and kids. Sharing your experience and expertise with others like you helps fight feelings of isolation. Many T1Ds don’t know another T1D, and even well-meaning family and friends just don’t get it – they can’t if they don’t live it. Talking with someone else can help deal with this 24/7 disease. This can help your child feel like they aren’t alone, which is essential for mental health.
Below are a few online diabetes communities that I’ve found helpful as a mom of two T1D children. I can’t tell you how beneficial these groups have been, even with questions at 3AM!
Raising Children with Type 1 Diabetes (Facebook Group I’m a part of)
When social distancing lightens up, I highly encourage you to join a local JDRF chapter, diabetes camps, and other in-person groups to engage with other T1D people your child’s age.
It is important to pay attention to the feelings and depression symptoms that your child or teen may have during the isolation of the pandemic. Not only for mental health, but for the impact it has on diabetes care. The ADA has an online directory if you don’t know where to start. If you are worried about your child and need immediate help, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK or texting the Crisis Text Line by texting 'TALK' to 741741.
-Cindy Orley, Founder and Lead Blogger at Akron Ohio Moms
- Hall G., Laddu D.R., Phillips S.A., Lavie C.J., Arena R. A tale of two pandemics: How will COVID-19 and global trends in physical inactivity and sedentary behavior affect one another? Prog Cardiovasc Dis. 2020;S0033–0620(20):30077–30083. doi: 10.1016/j.pcad.2020.04.005. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
- Naslund, John & Aschbrenner, Kelly & Marsch, LA & Bartels, Stephen. (2016). The future of mental health care: Peer-to-peer support and social media. Epidemiology and Psychiatric Sciences. -1. 1-10. 10.1017/S2045796015001067.