Feb. 21—NORTHUMBERLAND — Justine Peters says she had to wait three months to get her 12-year-old daughter into counseling.
Peters, of Northumberland, said it's difficult to find counseling services for children and adolescents in the Greater Susquehanna Valley. Her daughter Madalyn Kratzer, a seventh-grade student at Shikellamy Middle School, has been in counseling with Diakon Family Life Services in Lewisburg.
"It's extremely frustrating and heartbreaking seeing your child suffer and not being able to get them the immediate help they require," said Peters. "Also the hours are odd and I've had to take her out of school for most of the appointments which means she falls behind. It's like we can't win."
Due to COVID-19 restrictions, Kratzer does virtual sessions with her counselor every week to two weeks and sees her psychiatrist once per month, she said. Together, they work on grounding techniques they learned and ways to distract from stressors.
Kratzer said schooling is taking a mental toll on her and other students. The limited time school counselors have makes it even more difficult, she said.
"It's also hard because now there is the stress of remembering extra things now, such as remembering our school electronics—which is a mild example," she said. "I also think it's hard because it's a new school year with higher expectations and it's hard to reach them because of COVID. And along with these expectations, other kids including me, have other mental problems and appointments to make on time."
Kratzer said the virtual sessions help but she would rather be in person. She said she understands why that's not happening right now.
"I love her counselor but having virtual sessions isn't quite the same," said Peters. "It's harder to connect."
Two months to find a provider
Sarah Shipman, of Watsontown, has two daughters, ages 17 and 16, at the Warrior Run School District. She said family members seek out counseling when needed. Finding a provider recently has taken two months, she says.
"When people reach out for counseling, they usually needed the help last week," Shipman said. "Our situation wasn't a dire need. If you had someone in need with serious depression, the only alternative would be placement in a mental health facility. Fortunately, that was not our case."
Like many students, both daughters have missed out on traditional high school activities and even educational ones. It has put a strain on dating and social lives, she said.
"Our family has been trying to stay positive through the pandemic," Shipman said. "My husband is a school police officer at Lewisburg School District. We all have been juggling virtual days and different schedules. The teenagers do not like virtual learning as much. They find themselves easily distracted and to be honest, it is hard to stare at the walls of your house for that long."
Adults have the mental ability to see past this current pandemic, but many teens and children do not, she said.
"Their brains have not fully developed and they do not have the life experiences to know that things will get better," Shipman said. "They have lost so much in this past year of their social lives. Teens are meant to be social. I find that my teens and many of the ones I teach are only socializing through social media now. It is very sad. They are the ones suffering for an illness that has only killed a very, very small percentage of their age group. The suicide rate among their age group has skyrocketed this year, sadly. Kids and teens we're not made for this type of isolation."
'Stress and tension'
Two of Jen Kapelan's children are school age: A 5-year-old son in kindergarten and a 7-year-old daughter in second grade at Mifflinburg Area School District. With two other children not yet old enough for school, it makes for a busy schedule for Kapelan and her husband.
"Cooking meals, cleaning house, daily errands, doctors appointments, trying to give each child attention — this e-learning has been a nightmare," said Kapelan.
"Seems our school is very quick to shut down and switch to e-learning if they even hear a snowflake is going to drop. We have already had two occurrences of no snow, but school being closed. Kids don't get snow days anymore."
The household is full of "stress and tension," she said.
"My daughter has been crying from the overload of work and just staring at a screen all day," said Kapelan. "I feel like I'm constantly quick to snap, I'm tired, I'm overwhelmed, I have depression and anxiety to begin with and add this. I told the teacher the other day my daughter will take the absence, when it starts to impact my children's mental health I'm going to step in and shut the devices down. I'm done, needless to say."
Jennifer Elise Engleman, of Milton, has a daughter and a grandson in first grade in different school districts.
"My grandson doesn't like virtual. My daughter gets frustrated with what they are supposed to do next if she doesn't pay attention," said Engelman. "We have crying sometimes. She walks away from iPad frustrated. We only do one day of virtual. But we have been shut down a few times due to COVID and weather. She couldn't even send in Valentine's Day cards which made her sad."
Engleman said they have talked to her daughter's doctor about focus issues.
"We keep her active in gymnastics, cheer and dance to give her some normalcy in life," she said.
The new school life is difficult, she said.
"It's rough when the internet doesn't work or the (Microsoft) Teams program has issues," she said. "When we can't find the paper assignment. I feel like she is being ignored by me because I have my own class to help. During virtual last spring I would just cry some days. It was so frustrating. I feel bad for our kids. It's not their fault. The school and staff are doing the best they can do."