The Mental Impact of Changing Routines and Learning Environments on Children and Teens

illustration of young girl huddled in a corner

I want children to know they’re not alone when they feel that way. Talking helps and treatment works, so don’t be afraid to deal with how you’re feeling.

John T. Broderick

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused children and teens to have to adjust to a “new normal” defined by things that they have missed out on: school dances, sporting events and hanging out with friends.

To address the impact that the pandemic has had on the mental health of children and teens, Dartmouth-Hitchcock (D-H) focused on coping with changing routines and feelings of anxiety and isolation during the two-part installment of “Heads Up: Coping through COVID-19” webinar series on “Overcoming Challenges of Changing Learning Environments.”

The event featured John T. Broderick, senior director of External Affairs at Dartmouth-Hitchcock and founder of D-H’s REACT Mental Health Awareness Campaign; Julie Balaban, MD, child and adolescent psychiatrist at the Children’s Hospital at Dartmouth-Hitchcock; and Frank Edelblut, commissioner of the New Hampshire Department of Education.

Addressing mental health concerns

Since the start of the pandemic, health care workers in the hospital and outpatient settings have seen an increase in suicidal behavior, disordered eating, anxiety and depression in children and teens.

With so many children and teens experiencing anxiety or depression, it’s likely that they have classmates who are experiencing the same mental health challenges.

“It’s not okay to keep it to yourself. So, tell people about it, deal with it. And you will be surprised at the support you get,” said Broderick during the panel discussion. “I want children to know they’re not alone when they feel that way. Talking helps and treatment works, so don’t be afraid to deal with how you’re feeling.”

Returning to full-time learning and a sense of normalcy

Edelblut pointed out that schools have been working hard to equip students, parents and educators with the support needed for a return to normalcy in terms of education and life in general.

“One of the things that’s going to help the mental and behavioral health of our students is just going out, walking on the grass, climbing a tree and just enjoying some time together,” said Edelblut. “Those are the kinds of resources and programming that we want to continue to help our kids feel like they’re returning to a normal childhood again.”

With these efforts to ease back into routines, Broderick reminded viewers to be patient and not put too much pressure on this process.

"Children need to get out and experience life again. They need to know that they have everyone’s support as they are adjusting.”

Despite mental health challenges and missing out on milestones, there are silver linings that have come about as a result of the pandemic.

“This time has pushed everyone so far outside of their comfort zone,” reflected Edelblut. “And that might be okay because we’re willing to try new things, to tackle new things, to explore and to see what might happen.”

View the two-part series:

View all the sessions in the series.