COVID-19 has interrupted the normal ebb and flow of being a K-12 student in New York state. 

Because many students are returning to school after an extended break, as well as dealing with masking mandates and generalized stress around COVID-19, the Mental Health Association of New York State (MHANYS) has created a back-to-school guide for parents looking to talk with their children about anxiety.  

“We’ve heard, not only anecdotal (evidence), but there are already studies that are coming out indicating early on how much the anxiety issues are there,” Glenn Liebman, CEO of the Mental Health Association of New York State (MHANYS), told Capital Tonight. 

The MHANYS resource guide includes what are called “conversation starters” for parents who are concerned that their children are either experiencing abnormal amounts of stress or aren’t handling anxiety well.

If a parent thinks something is off with their child, the MHANYS guide recommends starting a conversation that invites your child to share beyond a one-word answer.

A few examples: “It seems like something’s up. Let’s talk about what’s going on,” or “I’ve noticed you’ve been down lately. What’s going on?”

If you’ve noticed a change in your child’s behavior, MHANYS recommends that you avoid asking questions like “Why are you not ____?” and instead state what you have noticed, and ask what is behind the behavior. For example: “Tell me how _____ makes you feel?”

“Expect the unexpected,” Liebman said. “These are young people; their brains are continuing to formulate. They’re going to respond in all kids of ways.”

Some kids will appreciate their family’s concern, according to Liebman, and others may not.

“You just have to be resolute and resilient to continue that conversation,” he said.

Liebman also discussed some challenges facing the mental health sector, which has been hit hard by a workforce shortage.

“People are leaving our field. They are going to Wal-Mart, they are going to wherever. We are seeing, not only are they getting paid more, but they are getting bonuses in some cases,” he told Capital Tonight.

To stem the hemorrhaging of staff, Liebman stated he would be asking for a 5.4% cost of living adjustment for workers in the mental health field in the next state budget.