Since the beginning of the pandemic, kids’ mental health has been a major point of concern. Rates of anxiety and depression are increasingly high, and this is being seen in schools and at home.

Steven McGough, a licensed marriage and family therapist with Thriveworks in Rio Rancho, specializes in coping skills, life transitions, anxiety and depression and previously worked in education for more than 10 years, said kids are still feeling the impact of the pandemic.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and McGough shared insights on the issue recently.

“Kids are especially vulnerable during lockdowns because they are at an age where development and learning is largely done through social means,” McGough said. “Kids’ and teens’ social learning and development is extremely important, and being isolated and having limited social interactions can have a big impact. Also, the increased stress on parents who have young kids at home is definitely a factor that can transmit stress to the kids.”

In the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, global prevalence of anxiety and depression increased by 25%, according to a scientific brief released by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2022. McGough said those rates are similar for kids and teens as well.

Mental health professionals are working to combat the mental health crisis among kids.

“I believe the mental health community is doing its best to deal with the fallout of the pandemic by being available as much as possible and providing virtual sessions for remote areas,” McGough said. “In my work, I try to help kids to engage more socially and participate in life.”

A big part of socially engaging involves disengaging from social media, according to McGough.

“Kids need to get out and interact with their friends and should have some dedicated time to be off their devices and social media in order to engage with the world again,” McGough said. “There is a lot of research that indicates the prevalence of being on social media is damaging to all of us, but especially kids and teens. It has only gotten worse since the pandemic.  We feel ‘bored’ and immediately go for one of our devices. I think a good thing for 2023 will be to make different choices. Instead of getting on a device or social media when we feel bored, why not go for a walk, call a friend to go do something, play with a family pet or talk to a family member? There are many different options to choose from that can make a big difference over time.”