“Do Not Give Up Hope,” ICC Child Counselling Specialist Tells Clients

COVID and a loss of control are affecting the mental health of students of all ages, said Interfaith Counselling Centre’s Rebecca Giroux

Rebecca Giroux, child specialist at Interfaith Counselling Centre, spoke to the Wilmot-Tavistock Gazette about challenges that students are currently facing. (Photo credit: Nigel Gordijk)

Rebecca Giroux, child specialist at Interfaith Counselling Centre, spoke to the Wilmot-Tavistock Gazette about challenges that students are currently facing. (Photo credit: Nigel Gordijk)

Rebecca Giroux MSW, RSW is a child specialist at Interfaith Counselling Centre, providing mental health support and counselling to adults, adolescents, children and families.

Not everyone appreciates what kids are experiencing during the pandemic. What’s your assessment of what they’re going through?

Every day, I listen to this from teens, and it makes me want to cry. It’s just not okay. It’s a significant struggle for all children these days, and their parents. As we know, when parents are struggling, oftentimes there’s the trickle-down effect on their children.

After years of this unpredictability and the expectations that parents wear the hats of educators, childcare providers, while also maintaining jobs and trying to pay for groceries. These are real problems, problems that were more prominent in the times of war.

It inevitably impacts their kids, regardless of their ages. The family doesn’t function in isolation, they function as a unit. It’s impossible to look at children’s mental health without looking as well as the parents’ mental health.

Some adults are saying that kids can cope because they’re resilient, and this isn’t as bad as living during a time of war.

I think that that’s a really unfair comment. I can appreciate why those who lived through those generations would feel that way. However, society is supposed to evolve, not regress, so those comments are not helpful to most people.

I think that sometimes during this pandemic, the struggles can turn into a bit of a competition. Those who are impacted by it, regardless of their marital status or their family unit, they’re all struggling. They see kids with smiles on their faces, and they see them with iPads, and they think, wow, kids have it so good these days. But their poor little brains are so overstimulated and not even yet fully developed. So, to have that expectation on children is just greatly unrealistic.

When you look back at the history of the world wars, mental health was not yet very recognized. It is an up-and-coming form of health care.

Both adults and children (are) struggling with significant mental health and suicidal thoughts, parasuicidal behaviours, things like cutting, burning themselves, because they don’t know what to do with that emotion. That is on the rise right now.

My youngest clients are four, and my oldest would be 17. The vast majority are here for either anxiety or depression, as well as family divorce and separation.

That is really devastating for a child to watch. Everything they’ve known, the routines, their education, is very different than what they’ve been accustomed to. Not only that, their families are falling apart amongst all of this, too.

I would argue that this is similar to the world wars that we’ve experienced.

Placing a child in front of a screen for hours on end and expecting them to learn that way, and also sit quietly and behave, is an impossible expectation, and it’s doing damage to their mental health.

Are health worries affecting how children are coping with school right now?

It’s not an unusual situation. I’ve been hearing a lot of this from my clients themselves, particularly school kids between grades one and five. I’m seeing that a lot of young kids are very nervous about getting sick, about their family getting sick, and about others in their classrooms not following protocols properly. So, there are a lot of children who are quite scared about the health impacts.

It’s hard for them to avoid because they see it on people’s faces literally every day when they walk into their school environment, or they walk into public, and they’re tired of it.

A lot of kids don’t want to go to school anymore because although there’s an opportunity for them to play and interact with students of their own age, it’s much more minimal than what it was, particularly in high school.

High school students have really been struggling with the significant changes in the format of their learning and their ability to interact with their peers. In order to see them outside, they get walked around, like livestock.

How is this anxiety manifesting itself amongst different age groups?

With the teenagers, I’m seeing mostly low mood (and) signs of depression. Many of them are seeking out different types of pharmaceuticals, medications, like antidepressants, SSRIs (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors).

They’re also feeling extremely anxious, entering the building every day, without even really being able to pinpoint why. That’s the thing about anxiety; you can’t always understand why it’s happening to you. The littler ones in elementary school, I’m seeing a lot more anxiety, and less mixture of the anxiety and depression.

Adults are feeling that same helplessness in a changing world over which they have no control.

Exactly. And this is just it. Children and adolescents already have so little control over their situations on a daily basis. They have to adhere to rules; they have to adhere to the adult world. And then we add further lack of control on their life? No wonder they’re struggling.

They compare themselves now to those who were able to go to high school and post-secondary facilities without a global pandemic, and it really does create feelings and thoughts of, this is just completely unfair. Why do we have to do this? That’s hard for kids.

Can you offer any words of hope?

Absolutely. Mr. Rogers is someone that a lot of us grew up on, those of us who are raising children these days. He used to say, “Look for the helpers,” and that’s what I’ve been trying to do.

I’d be lying if I said I’m not struggling in this pandemic, as a parent, as a social worker, as a therapist. I see all the struggles not only in our own life, but those of my clients.

My message would be, do not give up hope. Please. If you look, there are people out there who care, and there are people out there who will listen.Talking is hugely important. However, kids don’t always have the language to explain themselves, which is why it’s important that we don’t lose focus of those times that we have with our kids, regardless of their age, to play, because that’s very important.

We’ve almost lost play, because of all the electronics, all the video games, all of the online learning. When did they get to get up and move, use their hands, and experience tactile things?

Don’t lose sight of that, because the more you do it, the better you will feel.