Getting Better: Mental health and the pandemic

As of late, it’s been especially tough on children

ORLANDO, Fla. – The discussion surrounding mental health has evolved during the pandemic to challenge the stigmas associated with getting help.

On this week’s episode of Getting Better with Kirstin O’Connor, Monica Barreto, PhD, a pediatric psychologist with Orlando Health Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children, talked through some of the added stressors in 2022, including access to therapists and rising Baker Act numbers.

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Barreto said there has been a shift in the way many people perceive mental health during the pandemic.

“I think the most important thing that has come from this mental health crisis, that yes began with the pandemic and has continued, is normalization,” Barreto said.

In a recent News 6 story, data from Arnold Palmer Hospital showed there were 278 Baker Act cases from May 2021 to March 2022.

Barreto said those numbers, unfortunately, do not surprise her. And in many situations, she said, parents she has worked with were shocked to find out their children were silently suffering from depression and thoughts of harming themselves.

Her advice to parents is not to shy away from having direct conversations with children about mental health.

“What I do a lot with parents is letting them know it’s OK, and modeling for your child, modeling talking about, you know, ‘I’m having a hard day, I’m going to use my skills, I’m going to take a break to go for a walk,’” Barreto said.

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The whole concept of a “Mental Health Day” looks different today than it did in 2019.

“Yes, it’s normalized to talk about these things with children and teens, but it’s this is not the norm for some parents and some adults, you know, they came up in a space where we didn’t talk about this,” Barreto said.

Barreto agreed that the goal during Mental Health Awareness Month is to remind people that mental health conditions should be treated like any other physical health condition. Identifying the problem is the first step, and treatment may be long-term.

One final thought from the doctor was to take problem solving day by day.

“Finding any support even if that’s just to have someone hear you out, validate everything that you are going through, and get you to a space where you can try to problem solve and come up with a plan, even if that plan is just, what can you do today?” Barreto said.