Community mental health is July Hot Topic

Julie Davis
Nebraska City News-Press

The mental health and well-being of children and families was the discussion topic at Scooter’s Coffee for the July 14 Hot Topics gathering.

Therapist Jessica Eckhardt and Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner Lindsey Teten of Arbor Psychiatric and Wellness Center discussed some of the ways the COVID-19 pandemic affected the community’s mental health and offered coping tips as families transition back into school and work routines in the weeks ahead.

“It’s been a rough year for everyone,” said Eckhardt, who noted that 1 in 5 American adults and 1 in 6 American youth indicated they had a mental health issue in a 2019 survey.

Eckhardt said that during the pandemic the numbers of patients reporting depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms almost doubled.

Teten said she has seen more children refusing to go to school since the pandemic than ever before. She and Eckhardt said they were unsure what the long-term effect of missing the 2020 school year may be, but she said the unusual educational situation was difficult for both children and parents.

She said in some cases, children have anxiety about sickness and death that have been heightened by the pandemic, but in other cases, it’s more about the social aspect of school and the fact that students haven’t had to deal in-person with bullies, being judged by their wardrobes or other issues that can make learning challenging for some students.

For students who don’t want to go to school, Teten said she recommends re-exposing those students to school slowly, first simply driving to the school, then going into the office, and building from there as the student’s anxiety levels decrease.

Eckhardt and Teten asked the audience to provide examples of positive experiences that came out of the pandemic. 

Among those were family meal times, with everyone contributing to the making of the food; families reconnecting after having their usual summer routines of traveling to attend sporting events that their children participated in altered; the downtown Nebraska City cruise and other community activities that provided a socially distanced social outlet; and the fact that the housing market has been hot since March 2020, which has been a positive change for those in the community in real estate, mortgage, and title and escrow careers.

“We all did the best we could in a situation we were unprepared for,” said Teten.

Eckhardt and Teten encouraged the audience to practice good self-care, to take care of their families, and to check in regularly with their families, friends, and neighbors to ensure the community’s mental health continues to be strong.

Hot Topics is a monthly gathering hosted by Nebraska City Tourism and Commerce to highlight community events. It takes place at Scooter’s Coffee, 2104 S, 11th St. Call 402-873-6654 for more information.

Arbor Psychiatric and Wellness Center team members Jessica Eckhardt, LIMHP, left, and Lindsey Teten, MSN, APRN, PMHNP-BC, right, were the presenters at the July 14 Hot Topics. Eckhardt and Teten discussed the COVID-19 pandemic’s effects on community mental health and provided suggestions on healthy coping skills to use to transition back into school and work routines.