Region Ten plans to launch five telehealth group therapies in an effort to help teenagers and young adults cope with their new normal during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The therapy groups ― created specifically in response to the pandemic ― will start this week or next week, depending on demand and will be offered in the afternoon, said Sara Robinson, Region Ten’s director of child and family outpatient and crisis services. Medicaid or private insurance is being accepted. There’s also a fund set up for those who are uninsured.
“One of the things that we realized is during this time ― especially during social distancing ― people really need each other,” Robinson said. “They need support, particularly our young people who have now lost the social support of their school and peers.”
Region Ten will offer substance abuse treatment, two different groups for different ages addressing anxiety, a dialectical behavioral group therapy and a stress management group. The stress management group will cater to Spanish speakers. Additionally, the organization’s school-based Prevention and Family Wellness Student Assistance staff continues to reach out to students during the school closures.
An anxiety group will be offered to 11- to 13-years-olds on Wednesdays, and another one will be offered to 14- to 18-year-olds on Thursdays.
A dialectical behavioral group will also be offered to 14- to 18-year-olds on Mondays and Wednesdays.
The substance abuse treatment group, offered to 15- to 18-year-olds, will meet on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
The stress management group, offered to 14- to 18-year-olds, will meet on Fridays.
Call (434) 953-0409 for more information.
Providing mental support could prevent long-term mental health. Teenagers to mid-20s are at high risk of suicide, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, adding that “extreme depression can lead a child to think about or plan for suicide.”
Robinson said if the community rallies around one another and offers emotional support, the outcomes will be better.
“That’s really where people find resilience,” she said.
Parents may expect their children’s behavior to change in response to the outbreak, Robinson said, in ways they may not have seen before because they’re more irritable or feeling anxious.
Because some parents may struggle on how to address these changes in their children’s behavior, Robinson recommended parents to make their children feel safe and connected.
“What parents can do is really be available to their kids if they’re seeing that they’re experiencing stress,” she said. “Be open to have conversations with [your] kids on what might be on their mind and, of course, being developmentally appropriate with how much information you share with them.”
While children are good at picking up on stress, they may not know what it means. Robinson said they may interpret it as something is wrong or that their parents are upset with them. She recommends parents to talk to their children, so they’re not concerned.
“You might say, ‘This is hard. Lots of folks are worried about that, but we’re going to do our best to keep you safe and healthy.’”
Charlottesville-based psychotherapist Michael Garcia said it’s a huge adjustment for children to go from what was familiar with school schedules to having to learn at home. And as parents assist their children with virtual learning, he recommended that they keep continuity and stability whenever possible at home.
“I do think that because it’s a huge adjustment, it can cause more stress and worry in children and parents,” Garcia said.
As the pandemic persists, he said some of the warning signs of depression in teens and young adults could include changes in eating and sleeping and lack of interest in things that were of prior interest.
The best way for children to cope with the current situation is by building relationships, Garcia explained. He also stressed that the pandemic could lead to greater disparities in school, which could result from a fundamental daily crisis of life that makes it impossible to hold any kind of learning, including worries about where their next meal would come from or how their parents are going to afford their bills.
“Social support and relationships in whatever ways is acceptable at this point,” Garcia said. “It’s the best resources, feeling like they’re part of the community.”
Since the schools closed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the school systems and other organizations have worked to make sure no children go hungry. Charlottesville City Schools and Albemarle County Public Schools have provided breakfast and lunch to children up to 18. There also have been initiatives to provide computer devices and Wi-Fi hotspots to children needing them.
Robinson said Region Ten’s services can be accessed via multiple platforms, including Zoom.
“We want people to know that they are here and available; and we have many child and family clinicians that could really provide a lot of support to kids and teens and also parents,” Robinson said. “We want them to understand that this is available.”
Nancy Deutsch, professor at the University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education, said teachers need to understand that students are not going to be engaged academically if their psychological needs aren’t met.
Among several suggestions, Deutsch recommended that parents find ways for children to connect with friends and non-parental adults virtually. Elementary-level teachers often think about relationships, but this is something that teachers working with teenagers in the middle school level and up should think about as well. Upper-level teachers tend to focus on the content, she said, when they should also pay attention to the social connection.
Ways to keep children engaged include assigning work on topics of their choice, such as project based-learning, as well as breaking them into virtual groups so they can engage with their peers.
“It’s a great time for schools and teachers to figure out the role [project-based learning]” Deutsch said.
Billy Jean Louis joined Charlottesville Tomorrow as its education reporter in April 2019 and is a graduate of the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications. Born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Jean Louis speaks English, Haitian Creole and French.