Mental Health in a Pandemic Reframed


On Dec. 1, Hannah Smith, online learner, 12, works on her daily school work. She says she always tries to always sit at a desk when she works, but sometimes that alone isn’t enough to keep her motivated (Photo Illustration by H.Smith).

Hannah Smith, Copy Editor

This story deals with mental health. If you or someone you know is struggling please reach out and call (913) 268-0156 and get the help you deserve.

For as many years as many students can remember, they have had a similar morning routine most mornings August through May. They have gotten up – rushing to get out the door – to meet their bus, or barely making breakfast, or maybe they are the one person everyone knows who actually manages to get up with enough time to do everything they want in the morning.  But like everything else, the morning looks a little different now. For many there is nowhere to rush off to; they just have to set up their computer and their 20-minute drive to school is over. For some it’s been the best of time, for others the worst. Tim Deweese, director of Johnson County Mental Health, said he has seen both.

Physically Distant, Socially Together 

“The fact is that everyone experiences this very differently, so I think it’s really hard for us to generalize one person’s experience across the board,” said Deweese.

He advocates instead for decisions based on science, saying that he can only help students with their mental health if they are physically well.

“I think that it’s very important that we don’t…weaponize mental health as a tool to discount what our public health officials are saying,” said Deweese.

He encourages people to  do that through staying physically distant from others.

“Unfortunately, I believe that some of the worst days for us are ahead in regards to this pandemic. One of the things that I think it’s important for us to do is I want to be realistic with people. I want to be realistic with young people that we need to wear masks, we need to wash our hands, and we need to stay physically distanced.”

To differentiate though, he doesn’t advocate for social isolation.

“We need to remain socially connected with one another, so it’s a challenge of sorts. It’s a challenge for all of us to find a new way to maintain that social connectedness with each other, but be able to do it in a physically distanced way.”

However, he said he is fully confident young people are capable of rising to that challenge.

“I will say that my experience in talking to young people just reaffirms my belief that our younger generation has a huge ability to be resilient and adapt.”

He has already begun to see young people being creative.

“I’ve heard of a number of ways that people have found new ways to interact and do things with their friends and be thoughtful about it.”

He actually sees that parents tend to struggle with change more than young people.

“I think that what I’m continuing to find is that really parents and adults are really the ones that are having a little more difficult time adjusting, and that’s understandable: change is hard for everyone, but I think change is really hard for adults.”

A Break With Victimhood 

This is the reason he advocates for parents to cognizant of the message that they are sending to their children.

“I think parents have to decide what message they want to send to their kids. Do they want to send a message of what I call victimhood? Where we are basically saying you should be outraged, you have lost something that you deserve or that you are entitled to, and you will forever be scarred because you are not going to experience the things that other students in high school or middle school have experienced.”

Deweese suggests a different message.

“Or can you look at it from an empowering view? Where you say you know this is the way it is and we are going to make the best of it and we are going to find a way to overcome and adapt. This class of 2020 [and 2021 are]  going to have a unique situation that no one in the world has ever experienced before. Doing that from an empowering point where you give someone hope, where you talk about delayed gratification, and you talk about coping and finding ways to manage the stress. I think in my mind that is the message parents need to be giving their kids,” said Deweese.

Seek Help 

However, Deweese knows that this isn’t always easy and that sometimes everyone needs help and should reach out for the help they need. He said he is encouraged to see that this is exactly what the community is doing.

“One of the things that I continue to hear is that ‘oh [the mental health department is] getting so many calls,’ or ‘so many new people are coming in for service’ and while that puts a strain on the system, the fact is that mental health and mental health issues are so stigmatized, and in the past I think people suffered in silence, and they were so hesitant to reach out for help… And I think in the past we would have had people not asking for help. So for me the notion that people are actually knowing where to call [and] knowing how to access care is a really positive thing.”

He can particularly see the change in young people. He says that they are more willing to speak about their lives.

“Quite frankly what I see from young people today is that they are more open to talking about what is going on in their life. If you are willing to listen and not judge that is a good sign because what it tells me is that people are open to saying ‘you know what, I’m experiencing this and I need help.’”

He contributes this to the great work the community has done through the schools and through projects like #ZeroReasonsWhy.

“And I think that’s a direct reflection upon the work our community has done. Not the work that the mental health center has done or that I have or that any one person has done, but the work that our community has done to bring about awareness and bring about the discussion that mental health issues are real and that they need to be talking about and that if you are suffering or that you need help that you ask for it.”

Overall, Deweese recognizes that this pandemic is affecting everyone differently and that everyone is in a different boat and fighting a different battle. Whatever the situation may be, this is his message for everyone.

“This pandemic is temporary, and while it may seem like a long time and it may seem like it’s going to go on forever – it won’t. There is hope, and we will get through this and we will get through it together. Whether students are going to school in-person or going to school remotely I think they have to do the best that they can and not put too much pressure on themselves. And understand that every student and every adult is experiencing this for the first time; none of us have been through a pandemic. That we can all provide one another a little grace and understanding. And [understand] that if we can support one another and be kind to one another we will all get through this. And if they are having difficulty, whether they are at school or at home, they simply need to ask for the help – reach out to a caring adult.”

Everyone’s morning looks different. For some the morning is brighter and better than it has been in a long time for others the morning is filled with dread for the endless days ahead, but it’s always been that way. While it’s more true now than it ever has been, it’s also true that there are people to help and new thoughts to be had. 

If you do need help the crisis number is (913) 268-0156, they will help you find the help you deserve.