Coronavirus: Youth mental health worsening, foster mom shares advice to overcome it

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — There’s a silent epidemic happening in tandem with the COVID19 pandemic, that’s a decline in mental health.

Especially among local children.

For Belinda James and her blended family, every day is not as sunny as this one.

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She’s a foster mom who cares for two teens, including 17-year-old Jonathan, who came to her because she’s received training for special cases.

“The kids have a lot of emotional, behavioral issues. A lot of times all they need is love,” said James.

Before the pandemic vacations and trips were the norm.

“We go to theme parks, we go to cruises, we go to dinner theaters, we just do a lot. I try to give them as many experiences as I can,” said James.

But now they spend most of their days cooped up at home, or in front of a screen.

Her foster son Johnathan agreed to speak with Action News Jax. We’re only sharing his first name to protect his identity.

“Johnathan, I want to thank you. You have a lot of courage for talking to us about this, you know, that right?” said Lorena Inclán.

“Yes ma’am,” he said.

For Johnathan virtual learning was a struggle.

“I hate virtual because I didn’t know what to do. I’d like to go to school because I can ask the teacher questions and get help there but I couldn’t, my grades went down,” said Johnathan.

As the world around him began to change, he grew more frustrated and worried.

“I miss going to school, going places, going out to fairs, hanging out with my friends. Now I can’t do that,” he said.

Action News Jax showed you in February how the state of youth mental health in America is worsening.

According to Mental Health America, Florida and Georgia ranked toward the bottom of the list at 38 and 29 respectively when graded on higher prevalence of mental illness along with lower access to care.

The organization also found that 60 percent of youth with depression do not receive any mental health treatment.

“There’s definitely a stigma as far as mental health,” said James.

James wasn’t afraid to share, that even she’s felt the need to speak with a therapist.

“I was feeling possibly probably a little depressed myself trying to find things to entertain them,” she said.

Thankfully, she has the support of therapist from Daniel Kids who call Johnathan and his foster sibling weekly.

“If I have some thing on my mind, I can’t get it out or anything I go to my mom or my dad or my siblings or my caseworker or therapist and I talk to them about it,” said Johnathan.

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While the pandemic isn’t officially over, they’re starting to feel more optimistic.

James said it may sound simple but talking about it is the first step to breaking the stigma.

“My hope is that people get more educated on mental health and COVID, so that we can kind of beat this thing together,” said James.