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Nurse-led Virtual Series Helps Adolescents Stay Calm and Well Amid COVID-19 Pandemic

COVID-19 is taking a significant toll on the mental health of both adults and children. A student-led webinar series from The Ohio State University College of Nursing is providing children and teens with evidence-based tips to help improve their health and wellbeing amid this pandemic and beyond.

Nearly half of adults in the United States report their mental health has been negatively impacted due to the novel coronavirus and sheltering-in-place.[1] Dozens of state and locally run distress hotlines have reported sizable increases in call volume, and counselors are reporting an increase in calls related to the pandemic, especially concerning social isolation.[2] And not to be underestimated is the long-term impact of lockdown measures on teens and adolescents, who are also experiencing increased levels of fear, depression and anxiety due to the nature and duration of stay-at-home measures.

To help young people cope with and stay well during the COVID-19 pandemic, Bernadette Melnyk, PhD, APRN-CNP, EBP-C, FAANP, FNAP, FAAN, Vice President for Health Promotion, University Chief Wellness Officer and Dean for the College of Nursing at The Ohio State University, and her Buckeye Wellness team have recently launched “Staying Calm and Well in the Midst of the COVID-19 Storm,” a free online webinar series for early adolescents that leverages evidence-based tactics for improving mental health and healthy lifestyle behaviors. The series, originally developed for faculty, staff and students at Ohio State by College of Nursing faculty and other university partners and adapted for a younger set of participants, is delivered weekly by students from The Ohio State University’s Colleges of Nursing and College of Education and Human Ecology. Wellbeing experts from The Ohio State University join toward the end for a live Q&A and the recordings are uploaded weekly to an online archive for convenient viewing.

“For many families, COVID-19 has activated many stressors, fears and uncertainty, uprooting work and home life, routines, job security and financial stability,” said Dr. Melnyk. “Adolescents not only feel our stress but experience their own. Research indicates that peer-to-peer counseling can be very effective, so this series was created to help early adolescents understand that they are not experiencing this alone and to equip them with knowledge and skills to improve their mental and physical health. Our incredible students have stepped up to provide the teens with resiliency and healthy lifestyle skills grounded in evidence, so they are well equipped to weather this pandemic and other challenging times throughout life.”

Based on the recent “Stay Calm and Well” series The Ohio State University provided for adults, this six-week webinar series, which kicked off on June 24, has been redesigned for a focus on younger students aged 10 to 14. The 30-minute sessions are designed to offer resources and skills that can help participants navigate stressors beyond the pandemic, exploring topics such as using cognitive behavioral skills to alleviate stress, anxiety and depression; staying physically active while at home; practicing mindfulness; how to experience better sleep; tips for eating healthy and balanced; and how to build resilience, gratitude and positivity in the midst of COVID-19. To date, an average of nearly 70 participants have tuned into each session.

“Early adolescence is the foundation for the rest of adult life, so it is a great window to create healthy lifestyle habits and build resiliency,” said Dr. Melnyk. “Just as we shouldn’t send construction workers into a worksite without hard hats, we should not be sending our children into adulthood without teaching them skills to lead a mentally and physically healthy life. If we are able to shift our focus in healthcare from intervention to prevention, I think we would see greater engagement in schools and better mental health outcomes for our children.”

One of the first sessions was hosted by Taylor Schwein, a rising senior at the College of Nursing from Mansfield, Ohio. As one of the student leaders for a program for first-year nursing students, Taylor had experience relating to younger students and helping them navigate stress. In less than two weeks, Taylor prepared for the first session of the series, “Stress Buster: Using Cognitive-Behavioral Skills to Allay Anxiety & Depression,” which engaged more than 100 participants.

“When you’re online and not in person, it’s harder to share something you might be struggling with or anxious about,” said Taylor. “And if you’re speaking to someone older than you, you might not feel comfortable sharing what’s bothering you because you don’t want to sound silly. But things like not being able to hang out with friends or drama at school can definitely contribute to feelings of anxiety or depression. That’s why it’s great that nursing students were leading these sessions – not only was it easier for someone younger to relate, but we’ve been taught how to lead therapeutic communication in a safe, welcoming way.”

Taylor believes that the COVID-19 pandemic is creating unprecedented stressors for children and teens, such as seeing empty shelves at a grocery store for the first time, navigating remote schooling, fear of someone in their family getting sick or experiencing a family member losing their job. As someone passionate about mental health and eager to study both pediatric and psychiatric nursing in the coming years, Taylor says she was honored to be a part of a series that is helping to provide adolescents with tips to get to a happier, safe and stable place.

“I wanted these teens to know that it’s okay to feel sad or helpless or that you’re missing out, but just don’t sit in that for too long,” said Taylor. “One of the concepts I made sure to discuss was how our thoughts, feelings and behaviors are all interconnected, and when we find ourselves lashing out at family or not taking care of ourselves, it may be time to slow down and reconnect with friends and family.”

Stephanie Rapp, a recent College of Nursing graduate from Pickerington, Ohio, was also excited to volunteer to host a session after the opportunity popped into her inbox. As someone who often struggles with falling and staying asleep, Stephanie gravitated towards hosting a session on tips and tricks for better sleep during the COVID-19 pandemic. And as the mother of a young son, she understood first-hand not only the stressors affecting adolescent sleep but also the need for appropriate resources for children their age.

“For a lot of kids, it’s been really tough to not be able to connect with friends, and with some families following health recommendations and others letting their kids play normally, it’s been difficult for parents to explain what’s going on when their children feel left out,” said Stephanie. “Especially in these difficult, unsettling moments, nurses can play a key role by being a caring advocate and educator in their communities, offering a unique perspective on the issues and what resources are needed to alleviate them.”

In her session “Sleep Soundly During the COVID-19 Pandemic: You Can Do It!,” Stephanie offered several valuable tips that the participants could try to get better sleep, such as keeping a consistent schedule every day, reducing screen time before bed, getting regular exercise, eating right and limiting afternoon naps. For those who often struggle to fall asleep due to anxiety, she recommended keeping a journal and writing down thoughts before bed, listening to apps that offer calming sounds and limiting exposure to social media or other news sites.

“One of my favorite things about this series is that the different sessions have built on each other,” said Stephanie. “Being physically active and practicing mindfulness plays into getting a good night’s rest. It’s been an honor to be a part of such a positive, educational resource for our community and I’m hopeful that each person can find at least one tip or trick that works for them to navigate their anxiety and get better sleep.”

The “Staying Calm and Well in the Midst of the COVID-19 Storm” series will run until the end of July 2020. To check out the archive of previous webinar sessions, please visit here.

Want to read other interesting articles from the July issue of Notes on Nursing? Check them out here:
How a Nurse-Led Start-Up is Creating the Future of the Night Shift
“The Road to a Vaccine”: A Live Series with Health Experts Navigating COVID-19

[1] Panchal, N., Kamal, R., Orgera, K., & Cox, C. (2020, April 21). The Implications of COVID-19 for Mental Health and Substance Use. Retrieved July 10, 2020, from https://www.kff.org/health-reform/issue-brief/the-implications-of-covid-19-for-mental-health-and-substance-use/
[2] Abbott, E. (2020, April 22). How does the coronavirus pandemic affect suicide rates? Retrieved July 10, 2020, from https://thehill.com/changing-america/well-being/mental-health/494170-how-does-the-coronavirus-pandemic-affect-suicide

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