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The Case for Free Food, Childcare, and Mental health Services for Families During the Time of the Pandemic (and Beyond)
Two New York Times articles written on May 12, 2020, spoke about the emotional toll resulting from the Covid-19 virus and how it is wreaking havoc on our community — and in particular, our families with young children. These two journalists emphasized the psychological trauma that a majority of our families are experiencing right now and how this puts them at risk for stress-related mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety, as well as spousal and child abuse -and worse- if they are already struggling with pre-existing mental health issues, financial stressors, grieving over the loss of a loved one, or other physical, social, or emotional challenges.
They emphasized the extreme shortage of competent mental health care workers that are needed right now to prevent terrible and long-lasting psychological outcomes. Although it is difficult to conduct therapy with children remotely, Well Baby Center is rising to the challenge through the dedication of our counselors and parent educators. They, like so many others on the front line, are committed to doing whatever is necessary to alleviate suffering in our community NOW.
As a preventative model of care, Well Baby Center’s mission is to mitigate long-term psychological effects of stress and distress on children through early interventions for the parents of these children. For our adult clients with or without children, our switch to online treatment has been difficult, but it has allowed our services to continue more or less uninterrupted. Nonetheless, I worry about the children and the long-term effect of this pandemic on their growing sense of self within this very insecure environment -one in which we are all trying to maintain our equilibrium. Children feel what their parents feel, and right now, and for the foreseeable future, what their parents feel is a massive sense of frustration and
helplessness, which manifests as stress and anxiety. Tempers become shorter, close-quarters become prisons, and loss of economic security becomes an ominous monster lurking in the shadows. Of course, children don’t understand any of this and so they fill in the gaps — may be mommy is angry because I was “bad”. Maybe mommy and daddy are arguing because I was “bad”. This makes them all the more anxious and apt to “act out” themselves, causing a vicious cycle to everyone’s peril.
On May 13, 2020, Roger Cohen wrote in the New York Times about the challenge before us: Whether to go back to our old ways (“old dispensation”) as quickly as possible or to use this tragedy to bring forth societal transformation. This is something that we must all reflect upon while things are moving at a slower pace. Why is it so hard for human beings to learn from experience and find the will to change?
Cohen goes on to say, “I’ve been thinking about children and the virus, this invisible thing that upended their lives closed schools, closed playgrounds, ended play dates and introduced them to Zoom. How they advise their furry animals they cannot leave the dollhouse today ‘because of the virus’. How they will put a mask on stuffed animals, because of the virus, and how they want to be told fairy tales, to be distracted from the virus. For them, and this vulnerable planet and more than 33 million newly unemployed Americans, it is worth trying to ensure that the “old dispensation” yields to something new, something more balanced, born of a strange revelation”.
We all want to be told fairy tales to be distracted from the worrying effects of the pandemic, but we must inhibit our natural inclinations and instead face our fears and ask the hard questions — why have we given our planet a “fever”, why we are giving one another a fever, and how we can use this crisis to build a better world that is more balanced, fair, and united.
Deborah and the Well Baby Center Family
Deborah Groening Rother is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Doctor of Psychology (PsyD), and Certified Infant-Parent Mental Health Specialist. She is also the Clinic Director of Well Baby Center.