Coronavirus Chronicles — Preserving Mental Health

Great Britain has been making valiant efforts to preserve the mental health of its children and teens, but the shortage of resources and trained counselors, plus the fact that many families do not have internet access at home, have combined to stymie the professionals and politicians who want to help.

What is that to us? The sad truth is that in many ways, the English seem to care more about some things than Americans do. Children’s states of mind are important, especially to doctors and others in the business of preventing childhood obesity, and the kids’ anxiety levels are going nowhere but up.

It doesn’t take much, in some cases, to upset a child enough that she or he veers onto a path that can lead to no good place. Here is The Guardian‘s Science Editor, Ian Sample, reporting on the work done by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) since March, when the coronavirus caused the first lockdown to be called:

Calls to the charity’s ChildLine service reached nearly 43,000 between March and October, with mental health worries making up more than a third of all its counseling sessions… Some children had developed eating disorders such as binge eating and bulimia for the first time, while others with existing eating disorders had reported worse symptoms or had relapsed…

Before the lockdown, the NSPCC provided an average of 335 counseling sessions per month that dealt with eating and body image disorders. After March, that total averaged 443 per month, for an increase of 32%.

For a variety of reasons, children often hide emotional distress from their parents, and with access to other relatives and friends cut off, the helpline might be the only outlet they have for negative feelings. Having been culturally conditioned to believe that depression is not manly, boys tend to find it especially difficult to deal with. The potential is always there, to channel or convert any negative emotions into anger, and in a lockdown situation, a chronically enraged male is not the ideal companion.

Emulating normalcy can help

The current NSPCC campaign is called Nobody is Normal, a fact that adults often forget in their own search for ways to fit into the world, and tame the world’s ability to damage the self. Over at, psychologist Lauren Muhlheim suggests creating a framework for normalcy by establishing routines.

In what we used to think of as normal times, the idea of being regimented in this manner was pretty boring, or even objectionable. But setting out a blueprint for doing things in certain ways, at designated times, can promote a feeling of grounded-ness that people need in unsettling circumstances. Rather than being perceived as stifling, routine can help a person get a grip on free-floating anxiety and tether it down. And that goes double, triple, and quadruple for children. Muhlheim advises parents,

Most people do better with structure. Create a routine that involves getting up, getting dressed, and doing something every day that feels productive. Your new routine should include your mealtimes — this is very important for everyone, but also people with either current or past disordered eating behaviors.

The psychologist also suggests limiting the time spent in front of a mirror. Even if you are only hanging out by yourself, treat yourself with the same respect you would show another person, by staying clean and at least minimally presentable. Muhlheim writes,

You may want to just hang out in your pajamas all day and not get dressed. That’s okay. But if you find that it makes you feel worse about your body, then consider getting dressed…

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “NSPCC warns of lockdown’s toll on children’s mental health,”, 11/08/20
Source: “Eating Disorders During the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Pandemic,”, 03/30/20
Image by Ganesh Dhamodkar/CC BY 2.0

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About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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