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Counselor offers advice to parents on maintaining good mental health amid pandemic

  • The MassSupport Network’s team participates in a virtual training session with Dr. Robert Macy. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO



Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Emotionally, school during the pandemic has been at least as difficult for parents as it is for children. The MassSupport Network, a state program that provides free psychological counseling, has already seen the effects, said Sarah Gaer, a lead counselor for MassSupport.

“We know that if parents are distressed, kids are distressed,” Gaer said. “A lot of what we’re focused on is helping parents take care of themselves and their mental health. If parents aren’t sleeping enough, if they’re drinking too much, they’re not going to be the best parents for their kids.”

Some of the most common issues parents now talk to counselors about have to do with their children being at home much more than usual, Gaer said, as many schools have switched to remote learning models in which students attend class online.

Specifically, she said, many parents are concerned about their children’s social development, and whether their students are really able to learn and retain information in a virtual class.

Working parents are also stressed about child care, she said. As many people now work from home, they have to juggle their jobs with supervising their children and supporting their schoolwork.

“I think the other thing is, parents are just sad,” Gaer said. “It’s really sad that what we think of as being normal educational experiences aren’t going to be the same as they used to be.”

In advising parents, counselors usually treat them as victims of trauma, Gaer explained. Traumatic events are those that affect people in emotionally distressful ways, while being beyond their control, she said.

“That is clearly what is happening to everyone in America right now,” Gaer said. “So the question becomes, what do we have control over? Finding those things can be really helpful.”

Finding trustworthy information is also helpful, she said. Many schools provide regular updates for parents, which can help to reduce the anxiety of uncertainty.

Use of social media should be reduced for similar reasons, Gaer said. Emotionally inflammatory news spreads easily online, and people tend to get in fights in the comments section. Older adults, especially, tend to be at risk for being upset by what they find online, she said.

“I don’t know a single study that shows it does any good,” she said. “It’s just not helpful.”

Eating well, exercising, sleeping enough and drinking responsibly are also important, Gaer said, as physical health tends to promote emotional health.

“If your body feels terrible, you feel terrible,” she said. “The better you can take care of your body, the better you’re going to do emotionally.”

The MassSupport Network offers free, anonymous and confidential support services to anyone living in Massachusetts. For more information, call 800-215-4920, email MassSupport@riversidecc.org or visit masssupport.org.