By Haley Schichtl, Carroll County News, May 26, 2020

The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have been difficult for many — whether it’s because of feelings of loneliness or depression from staying home, concerns about employment or financial security, or uncertainty about how things are going to change and how long it will be before everything is back to normal.

Berryville High School counselors Paige Edwards and Mattie McClenny said those stuck at home should make sure to talk to their friends regularly.

McClenny said writing a letter to someone or keeping a journal can be therapeutic.

“Sometimes texting or talking just isn’t the same as if you sit down and write something out,” McClenny said.

McClenny said going outside and drawing, reading or doing something you enjoy is another way to keep from feeling lonely.

“Just because you can’t be around a lot of people doesn’t mean you can’t go outside,” McClenny said. “If you’re in the house alone and the curtains are all drawn, it’s easier to feel isolated.”

“Do something you enjoy and try to keep yourself on some type of schedule, where you’re not sleeping in late every day,” Edwards said.

McClenny said students who had been seeing mental health services are continuing to use them now.

“We’re still in contact with the local agencies, and they’re seeing the students through teleconefrences, Zoom, or on the phone,” McClenny said. “We’re having Zoom meetings with the agencies to get updates on our kids to see if there’s anything we can do on our end.”

McClenny said the counselors also have been sending weekly notes to students over email to check on them and ask if there is anything they need help with.

“I want to make sure that these kids know if they need something, they’ll email a teacher or someone,” she said.

Eureka Springs High School counselor Rachal Hyatt said her school district has close to 200 students who are still using the school’s mental health resources.

“Our school is still using YouthBridge services, and they’re connecting with them through the computer. They’ve been using their TeleHealth services,” Hyatt said. “Our school also has our AWARE services. All the students they were seeing previously, they’re doing the same thing with TeleHealth.”

Hyatt said the best way to deal with stress during these uncertain times is by keeping in touch with friends and family.

“If kids are needing anything, they can be in contact with me or a teacher and we can get them in contact with the correct person,” Hyatt said. “Know that your school family is still here and we have resources to help you.”

Green Forest High School counselor Karen Westcott also said getting outside and finding new interests are important for mental health.

Westcott said the American School Counselor Association sent her resources for students struggling with anxiety or depression, food insecurity or other concerns related to COVID-19, and she sent these resources out to the staff.

“Teachers are the front lines for the counselors. They would be the ones that would say, can you check on a specific student?” Westcott said. “A lot of the different things that the teachers might be hearing about might be new to them.”

Westcott said the YouthBridge counselors are also using Telecounseling to continue helping students that had already been using the services.

She said she and the principal, Tim Booth, sent out a message after spring break to let students know that if they have any need, they can email her or call the school.

“The school district will make sure I’m able to make contact with the student to determine what resources we might need,” Westcott said. “Sometimes that resource is just the chance to talk to somebody to address their fears. The stresses I’ve heard from the kids are across the board.”

She said many students are concerned about how things are going to work out with college, grades or the future.

“When it all came down to it, it was the fear of uncertainty about what will happen from here,” she said. “And there’s so much conflicting information out there, it’s hard to know what to believe.”

Westcott said she understands why seniors especially are feeling upset or concerned.

“If they are feeling a little depressed right now, which I think a lot of us are,” Westcott said, “I think that it’s important that they acknowledge that they have every reason to be grieving this.”

Some resources for dealing with anxiety, depression and uncertainty in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis include:

• Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It gives some suggestions for coping with stress on cdc.gov. CDC recommends taking breaks from paying attention to news stories about the pandemic, eating healthy and exercising, making time to relax and connecting with people.

• The Child Mind Institute. It recommends that parents discuss the virus with their children, and be honest but reassuring. Kids worry more when they don’t understand what’s going on, and it makes them feel empowered to know what they can do to help keep themselves and others safe, like washing their hands for 20 seconds.

• National Association of School Psychologists. It also gave tips to parents, including limiting their kids’ TV and social media use, keeping a regular schedule, being available to talk to them and reminding them adults are working to keep them safe.

• Human Rights Campaign. It discusses the COVID-19 effects that will be unique to members of the LGBTQ community, and how others can support them.

“In addition to the greater risk of health complications as a result of COVID-19, LGBTQ Americans are more likely than the general population to live in poverty and lack access to adequate medical care, paid medical leave, and basic necessities during the pandemic,” HRC states on its website.

• National Parent Teacher Association. PTA.org answers many questions parents might have related to schools being closed. It discusses what parents should do if they don’t have internet access, what is being done to make sure kids have school meals, and how parents can support learning at home.

• Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Association. On its website, samhsa.gov, it recognizes how the crisis can lead to depression, anxiety, financial instability, isolation and concerns for domestic violence victims who are having to stay at home. SAMHSA gives grants to organizations that help people struggling with mental health issues, substance use or domestic violence, and is giving grants.

• No Kid Hungry. It shares information about how to help kids without access to school meals, as well as information for families who need meals.

• Purple Flower Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Resource and Support Center (Berryville) crisis line: 479-981-1676. Visit ThePurpleFlower.org for more information about services.

• Disaster Distress Helpline: call 1-800-985-5990 or text “TalkWithUs” to 66746.

• National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: call 1-800-273-8255.

• Crisis Text Line: text “HELLO” to 741741.