Missing out on big milestones, like graduation, can have a greater impact on youth mental health than parents might think.

Summer's usually seen as an exciting time for Washington youth—time to graduate, spend long days in the sun, and make plans for the coming year. But in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, "school's out for summer" takes on a new, potentially fraught meaning.

In Washington state, one in 10 kids under 18 years old already struggles with mental health each year, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Washington—and per Seattle Children's Hospital, that stat has likely skyrocketed since Governor Inslee first enacted stay-home orders to combat the virus's spread. 

"There is a bigger pandemic we’re fighting," says Lauren Simond, executive director of NAMI Washington.

It's not hard to see how recent changes could put additional stressors on kids, especially the children of essential workers, some of whom are left to care for themselves and family members at home. But absent those additional responsibilities, it's still "critical to acknowledge the losses and traumas youths are experiencing with the cancellation of end-of-the-year events and summer plans,” says Jenny Gruenberg, the Youth Outreach Coordinator at NAMI Washington. I am not entirely sure how much has been done to acknowledge the profound loss" students are experiencing, Gruenberg says.

Some kids struggling with mental health may show a lack of interest in activities they typically enjoy. But everyone's experience looks different. “A young adult with serious mental illness may not understand why they are needing to stay at home or stay inside,” Simond explains.

For parents seeking in-depth help, NAMI’s Seattle chapter provides virtual resources for families, including virtual support groups for parents of K–12 students. Focused on pandemic parenting, these Zoom sessions are intended to build community and de-stigmatize youth mental illnesscovering everything from recognizing signs of anxiety and depression in a child to building routines at home.

It is really important to reach out and show support," Simond says. "Even just calling and showing you are an ear for support goes a long way."

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