'A lot of grief and anxiety' for kids, youth after living with COVID for 1 year, says psychotherapist

As kids and youth deal with life-changing circumstances not seen in generation, CBC K-W is taking a look at COVID-19 through the student lens.

Alyssa Strachan sees loneliness, social isolation, decrease in motivation, difficulty in online among clients

Alyssa Strachan, a psychotherapist at the Delton Glebe Counselling Centre in Waterloo, says she 'seeing a lot of anxiety in kids in the region.' (Brian A. Jackson/Shutterstock)

"It was very difficult." 

"It's really hard." 

"My motivation to do things went down."

A common thread runs through the responses of the Peart-McBride family siblings when asked how they felt about the life-changing events of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Julian Peart-McBride, 19, said early last year, he was in a college program and was looking to enroll in more courses. 

"I just started feeling like I was getting some momentum in my life," he told CBC News.

That changed, he said, when COVID-19 hit. 

"I tried doing a course online and it did not work out. Ever since then, it just went down like a downward spiral," Peart-McBride said. 

12-year-old Ben Peart-McBride is still in public school, but said he felt more or less the same. 

"I'd say it's really hard. It was just a combination of everything. School work is pretty stressful," he said.

Even their nine-year-old sister, Charlotte, is having a hard time coping with the changes. 

"It was very difficult," she said. "When I tried to Google Meet with my friends, they couldn't hear me at all."

Kids are struggling

The experiences of the Peart-McBride family come as no surprise to Alyssa Strachan, a psychotherapist at the Delton Glebe Counselling Centre in Waterloo. 

Strachan has been helping youth in the region get through the stress and anxiety of this past year. She said many have reported similar feelings: of loneliness, social isolation, decrease in motivation, and difficulty in online learning.

"I'm seeing a lot of anxiety in kids in the region. There's the anxiety around our loved ones, what's gonna happen to the people in our homes, the people we love," Strachan told The Morning Edition - KW

"There's the social isolation piece — not being able to be in close contact with friends now that we're back in lockdown, not having that accessibility to our friends, not being able to see them at school, even. 

"There's also grief that goes along with that. There's the loss of being around social situations, there's the loss of seeing close family and there's also a loss of extra curricular, so there's a lot of grief and anxiety going on right now," Strachan added.

Alyssa Strachan, a psychotherapist at the Delton Glebe Counselling Centre in Waterloo, has been helping youth in the region get through the stress and anxiety of this past year. (Delton Glebe Counselling Centre)

According to Strachan, some of the anxiety kids are feeling is related to the pandemic. 

She's heard from kids who are worried about family members in a way they didn't need to be before. 

"I've had kids say, 'I don't want my family to leave the house' because they're worried about them contracting COVID," Strachan said. 

"They're worried about going back to school because they're worried about bringing it back into the home."

'A lot of long term effects from this'

The psychotherapist is warning that the effects of the pandemic on kids are not likely to go away anytime soon.

"I think we're also going to see a lot of kids coming out of this with decreased motivation for school," Strachan said.

"I think we're also going to see over the long term, the grief of all that we've lost this year — we've lost family members, we've lost being able to be with our friends, and for kids they've really lost out on being able to be involved in the extra curricular that are so important for so many kids."

Dr. Todd Cunningham is a clinical and school psychologist and assistant professor (teaching stream) at the University of Toronto. (University of Toronto)

'Children are very resilient'

Like Strachan, clinical and school psychologist Dr. Todd Cunningham said students have a noticeable increase in anxiety, as well as fear and worry about their safety and the safety of those in their household.

"[There's also] depression, feeling withdrawn and [a] lack of energy to engage due to excessive worry they have," Cunningham told CBC News.

"A big piece of that is due to a sense of loneliness that a lot of, especially, youth are reporting at this point. Not having that same sense of social connectedness especially now that education is back online, not being able to have those incidental conversations with their fiends."

But Cunningham, who is also an assistant professor (teaching stream) at the University of Toronto, said historically, children are very resilient and they will bounce back.

"I think in general, one thing about children, youth and as a species, we're very resilient individuals and when we all come out of this there'll definitely be a group that will need targeted mental health support, targeted academic support to be able to catch them up," he said.

"But overall, I think we're a very resilient species and we see that historically through times of great worldwide events, that children have bounced back and been able to thrive after wars, hurricanes and other natural disasters around the world."

With files from Fitsum Areguy and CBC KW's The Morning Edition


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