A nationwide surge in children and adolescents visiting emergency departments for mental health problems raises fears over potentially detrimental emotional effects from experiencing ‘global mass trauma’ due to the pandemic. There are only a few weeks to go before we hit the one-year mark since quarantine began, but sadly, the younger generation will still greet classmates through screens, their clean sports jerseys hang in the closet, cleats remain unlaced, and calendars full of canceled events. Unfortunately, kids and teens living with a physical difference possibly must bear the emotional weight of delaying life-changing reconstructive surgeries, disrupting critical developmental care plans, and coping with medical PTSD-induced anxiety from the public wearing a key stressor: masks.
The complex psycho-social impact of living with a visible difference already places members of our CMI Camp Cosmos community at-risk for depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem without the added consequences of living through a pandemic during formative years. Mental health concerns for teenagers were on the rise even last year, after the 2019 CDC behavioral risk survey uncovered an increase in high schooler students self-reporting experiencing “persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness” since 2009 and that “about 1 in 5 students seriously considered attempting suicide.”
With normalcy flipped on its head, full days of online learning with limited fresh air time substitutes daily schedules, class, activities, and plans with friends. The increase in screen-time is even more alarming, as children and adolescents not only have more time to spend on social media, but it is one of their few ways to stay connected to peers and entertained. Social stigmas surrounding visible differences have seeped their way to platforms, where impressionable minds await. Last September, the TikTok ‘FaceTime Prank’ trend went viral, featuring videos of people expecting to FaceTime someone they know, only to capture their ‘shocking’ surprise when a photo or video of someone with a facial difference appears.
In response to the COVID-19 mental healthcare crisis, with the help of our partners, the Children’s Craniofacial Association, we began to offer bi-monthly, virtual Family Meet-Ups providing psycho-social care to people with congenital and acquired differences and their families. Isolated from peers, friends, family, and other outside sources of social support, younger people are in a tough spot battling negative thoughts about the unstable present while trying to remain hopeful for an unforeseeable future.
While the COVID-19 pandemic causes disequilibrium in the outside world, we have chosen to dedicate February’s cause to be SELF-LOVE—meaning appreciating yourself while prioritizing your well-being and happiness. We believe everyone must build an internal repertoire of positive self-esteem, self-acceptance, and self-compassion to strengthen emotional support and stability that is unwavering in response to the external world.
Self-esteem forms over the years from childhood to adulthood, impacted by experiences with people and events. Finding self-love is a significant factor in maintaining healthy self-esteem, and research shows that practicing self-compassion helps reduce depressive symptoms. Thoughts influence our actions, thereby creating an inner dialogue of self-appreciation, which can help us recognize our worth. Through Family Meet-Ups and Camp Cosmos, our goal is to provide positive, inclusive, confidence-building experiences to people with a physical difference and their families.
Our Camp Cosmos programs include discussions and activities that help young people with visible differences and their families figure out what self-love looks like to them. These critical mental health strategies are essential to establish now, especially as social media influences grow with the number of hours children spend inside, alone.