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A recent survey commissioned by the National 4‑H Council found that 7 in 10 teens are struggling with their mental health in the wake of COVID-19. Georgia 4-H members gathered during Fall Forum at the Rock Eagle 4-H Center in December.

ATHENS — Whether going back to school means in-person or distance learning for the young people in your life, it’s a good time to remember to prioritize mental health. COVID-19 has impacted the lives of young people in many ways, and mental health is no exception.

A recent survey commissioned by the National 4‑H Council and conducted by the Harris Poll found that 7 in 10 teens are struggling with their mental health in the wake of COVID-19. More than half of the teens surveyed indicated that the pandemic has increased their feelings of loneliness.

To help young people cope with stress, the National Council for Behavioral Health recommends maintaining a routine, staying physically active, and limiting time spent watching or reading news and using social media.

Instead, encourage students to express or channel their feelings through creative outlets. For younger children, this could be done through drawings or short stories. Journaling, playing music or creating art can be good outlets for older youths. It can also be helpful for young people to stay connected to others and talk about feelings or anxiety with those they trust.

Set the foundation for a good routine with good sleep. Middle and high schoolers need about eight to 10 hours of sleep per night.

Parents should model good nutrition, as well as physical and social activities in behavior and language. Avoid using food as a reward or physical activity as a punishment.

While many of the usual programs, sports or clubs that young people participate in right now may look different, the social and emotional support that these activities and relationships provide are still important. Encourage younger members of your family to participate in activities they are interested in, even if they are remote or different than normal.

Local 4-H programs are also great places to get or stay involved. For information on the current status of programs in a particular area, contact the local University of Georgia Cooperative Extension office by visiting extension.uga.edu/county-offices.

The following are a few mental health resources for parents and youths:

♦ MentalHealth.gov: Strategies for parents and caregivers to talk about mental health with children and youths are available at www.mentalhealth.gov/talk/parents-caregivers;

♦ Mental Health America of Georgia: This organization offers a range of resources and information available throughout the state of Georgia at www.mhageorgia.org/covid19;

♦ Mental Health First Aid: Resources to help people care for their own and their loved one’s mental health are available at www.mentalhealthfirstaid.org/2020/03/how-to-bethedifference-for-people-with-mental-health-concerns-during-covid-19. Resources to help teens cope during COVID-19 can be found at www.mentalhealthfirstaid.org/2020/04/tips-to-help-teens-cope-during-covid-19;

♦ Georgia Crisis and Access Line: For immediate access to routine or crisis services, call the Georgia Crisis and Access Line at 1-800-715-4225. GCAL is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week and 365 days a year to help with the care of someone in a crisis. GCAL can also help to access a state-funded provider in the area for non-emergencies as well. Georgia youths can access GCAL’s services via text and chat through an app called My GCAL, which became available for download in late January 2019. Developed by Behavioral Health Link, the app will allow individuals to call, text or chat with GCAL at any time. For more information, visit www.georgiacollaborative.com/providers/georgia-crisis-and-access-line-gcal.

National help lines:

♦ Disaster Distress Helpline (SAMSHA) at 800-985-5990;

♦ National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255;

♦ Text MHFA to 741741 to talk to a Crisis Text Line counselor.

Courtney Brown is the Extension Healthy Living Specialist for Georgia 4-H and a registered dietician.

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