Anxiety in children during a new administration
Since the current administration took office, many children continue to grapple with the initial shock of the election results and the uncertainty of what the next 4 years will bring. In the days after the election, several patients sat in my office and spoke of intense feelings of sadness, anger, and worry. Their stress levels were elevated, and they searched desperately for refuge from the unknown. On the other side of the hospital, patients expressing suicidal ideation filed into the emergency room. A similar scene played out nationally when suicide prevention hotlines experienced a sharp increase in calls.
During this emotional time, it is critical to support our children. Some will be more affected than others. Children from immigrant backgrounds might be particularly fearful of what this means for them and their families. In the days after the election, a video surfaced from a middle school in Michigan featuring kids at lunch chanting, “Build the wall!”
Bullying also is a concern. Despite being a third-generation American, an 8-year-old boy woke up the day after the election confused and scared. One mother told me that a student confronted her 11-year-old son at school, yelling that the election outcome was a “good thing” and he should “go back to his country.” Like his mother, the 11-year-old was born in the United States.
Kids get their cues from the adults in their lives. Parents and teachers play an important role in modeling behavior and providing comfort. Adults need to support children and to do that properly they need make sure they have processed their own feelings. They do not need to be unrealistic or overly positive, but should offer hope and trust in our democratic system. With discussion, children should have ample opportunity to express how they feel. Psychiatrists can evaluate a child’s symptoms and presentation. Are current medications helping enough with the recent changes? Does a child need a medication adjustment or to be seen more often? Does he (she) need to be admitted to the hospital for evaluation of suicidal ideation? As a psychiatrist, do you need to revisit the list of resources in the community and give children a crisis hotline number? Also consider referring a child to a psychotherapist if needed. Some schools offered counseling after the election. It is worthwhile to contact school officials if a student is struggling or could benefit from additional support.
Although many unknowns remain, 1 thing is certain: children will have more questions and we must be ready to answer.
Balkozar S. Adam, MD
Associate Professor of Clinical Psychiatry Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
University of Missouri
Missouri Psychiatry Newsletter
Jefferson City, Missouri