Health officials are emphasizing the need to continue to keep a close eye on the mental health of children and adults alike as Grant County and the world continues to navigate the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic.

At a community COVID-19 update Wednesday, Dr. Michael Conn of Grant-Blackford Mental Health said some children may be experiencing stress, anxiety or other symptoms of poor mental health due to all of the changes that have been thrown their way since the pandemic began, especially since they will be entering a new normal when they return to school next month.

Conn said while there’s no one magic warning sign, parents should look for marked changes in behavior such as a child sleeping much more or much less than normal, getting in fights and throwing fits with other children when they typically get along and fighting through a mealtime. These changes can be red flags that alert parents their child may be struggling, he said.

If a child’s behavior is dangerous or causing harm to his or herself or others, Conn said parents should seek help right away. Otherwise, he recommends that parents first try to address the problem at home and remind kids to “take control of what we have control of.”

“There’s a lot going on right now that we have absolutely no control over,” Conn said. “But what do we have control over? Well, you know I have control over what kind of person I want to be. I have control over what I want to say and what I want to think and what I want to do.”

Conn said parents should also reestablish routines that may have been relaxed during summer or the stay-at-home order. Even though kids may push back against the structure of a day, Conn said it is “essential” and helps children organize and process the world around them.

“Regardless of how much they resist, they absolutely need structure, and that structure teaches them that the world is predictable,” Conn said. “No matter how chaotic the world gets there are some constants, and if parents are noticing that there’s some changes in children’s behavior, the first thing to try, the first thing to get under control or to manage, is tightening up the consistency in the household.”

Many times these tools will help improve a child’s mental health without outside intervention, but Conn said to call Grant-Blackford at 765-662-3971 or 800-755-3469 if the child continues to struggle with certain attitudes and behaviors that are detrimental to their mental health.

The advice to take control of what you can control and establish a routine are also beneficial for adults, Conn said.

Full operations at Grant-Blackford have continued throughout the pandemic with transitions to some services offered via telephone and video conferencing, according to Conn.

“Our inpatient unit is still open, we’re providing crisis care to people. Our childhood and addiction services are still operating at full capacity,” Conn said. “We haven’t slowed down one bit. So the pandemic even what it is, we’re charging right ahead.”

The agency is also now offering a support group for COVID-19 front line workers, encompassing medical professionals, first responders, grocery store workers, sanitation workers and anyone else who has been directly fighting against the virus.

“These are all people that have been profoundly affected by the pandemic who are suffering significantly from isolation, from direct trauma, from the pandemic,” he said. “So (in the group) you’re seeing that there are other people who are struggling as well and you’re also getting these very important skills to deal with a very unique time.”

Through grant funding, the program will be free to the front line workers, and those interested can participate through video conference or in person, with from two to 50 people able to participate at a time, Conn said.

“This is a program that was developed during the Ebola crisis, so it’s battle tested programming,” Conn said. “And we’ve got that program developed and ready to employ.”

For more information on the front line worker support group or any of the services Grant-Blackford provides, visit www. cornerstone.org.

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