Why building resiliency in children will help them—and all of us—get through COVID-19 - Action for Healthy Kids
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Why building resiliency in children will help them—and all of us—get through COVID-19

by Rob Bisceglie, CEO
May 7, 2020

Every American is impacted by the coronavirus pandemic in some way, whether physically, financially, mentally, or emotionally—or a combination thereof.

As the virus began its spread in the U.S., Joseph Stiglitz, Ph.D., Nobel Prize-winning professor of economics at Columbia University, noted that countless American families had far too little in the bank and businesses had been taking on far too much debt prior to the disease outbreak. He warned that the U.S. economy leaves little room for resilience. “We’ve pushed the idea of efficiency in a narrow-minded sense too far. We developed a system without resilience in which we left large numbers of Americans extraordinarily vulnerable,” Stiglitz told CBS News Sunday Morning on March 22, 2020.

While the financial fallout of COVID-19 will be unlike anything we have seen since the Great Depression, we know our society is facing far more than a financial crisis. Amid what The Washington Post is calling a “nationwide psychological trauma,” it comes as no surprise that nearly half of all Americans feel the pandemic is harming their mental health.

As the CEO of an organization working to improve the physical and emotional health and well-being of children and families—challenging work especially for children in underserved communities in “normal” times—I couldn’t help but draw an analogy about our nation’s children to what Dr. Stiglitz was saying. While children are at much lower risk of developing COVID-19, their health is impacted by this pandemic in ways we have yet to fully understand or measure. Building their resiliency is critical to helping them deal with these unprecedented times.

Dr. Jack Shonkoff, Founding Director of the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University has said, “For the millions of parents who were already struggling with low-wage work, lack of affordable child care, and meeting their family’s basic needs from paycheck to paycheck, the stresses are increasing exponentially.”

We have all come to understand the inequities in health and education that existed—indeed persisted—prior to COVID-19 have been exacerbated, exposed for all to see. COVID-19 exists concurrently with a childhood health crisis, characterized by millions of children faced with emotional and behavioral difficulties, adolescent depression and anxiety, activity limitation, poor diet quality and food habits, obesity, substance misuse, and suicidism. During this extended and unprecedented time away from school, with further disruptions to the normal school day likely in the fall, the need to help children build resiliency, routine, and healthy habits may in fact be greater than it’s ever been.

A great article from The Washington Post takes a heart-warming inside look into the lives of some working moms during quarantine and social distancing orders, who “concede that thriving is out of reach. Surviving is enough.” As a father of three, I get that. I think we all get that. But this National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day is just one day during this crisis of many that we need to ask ourselves, what will we do to help our children, and the most vulnerable families among us, not just survive, but still be able to thrive?

I don’t pretend to know all the answers to this exceptionally challenging question, but it is clear that our nation’s chronic underinvestment in mental health support systems—especially for kids—needs to be reversed.  Just like it’s time to invest to build the resilience of our economy, now is the time to invest to build resiliency in our kids and families. Let’s not wait for the next crisis.