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The next in this series of the Grant Us Hope Podcast welcomes back Dr. Courtney Cinko of Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. She joins host Travis Nipper to talk to us about the challenges of protecting your teen from social isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Listen to Episode 17

Travis begins by introducing his guest Dr. Courtney Cinko of Cincinnati Children’s Medical Center to the Grant Us Hope Podcast. Dr. Courtney Cinko shares that she is a child and adolescent psychiatrist, but she is also trained in pediatric and adult psychiatry (2:10). In addition, Dr. Cinko works on projects that aim to increase access in the community for kids who are struggling with mental health that cannot find any providers (2:40).

Travis  opens the conversation by asking Dr. Cinko  what lead her to the field of psychiatry (3:06).

Dr. Cinko shares how she is fascinated by mental health. Furthermore, Dr. Cinko discusses how intrigued she is about the brain and how complicated the brain is. Dr. Cinko  is passionate about  how much of a difference she can make in the mental health treatment for children and teens (3:25).

Travis goes on to note that there is an apparent increase in anxiety and depression in teens. Travis then poses the question “what is the driving factor behind the increase in anxiety and depression in teens”. Dr. Cinko responds by providing a two-fold response.  She starts by saying how the first driving factor is because of COVID-19 and the second is social isolation in teens.

Dr. Cinko describes how there were signs of social isolation in teens before COVID-19. She states that there is a tendency for kids to isolate and be on their electronics all the time because they get drawn in. Furthermore, Dr. Cinko goes on to discuss how social isolation is the most important factor right now with what professionals are seeing in kids (4:45).

Kids are disconnected kids from their parents, friends, and all of their activities. Being disconnected can bring about depression. Dr. Cinko closes this question by saying  “depression is not the opposite of happiness; depression is the opposite of being connected” (5:40).

The next question Travis poses is about the health risks of isolation. Dr. Cinko discusses how studies have shown that in general people who struggle with anxiety, depression and other mental health issues have lower overall physical health.

She discusses the impact social isolation has on children. Dr. Cinko talks about when a child is depressed, anxious or not doing well with their mental health, everything become a chore. There is lots of negative thoughts,  their body displays elevated levels of inflammation, they aren’t exercising or eating,  which has a compounding effect on overall health and physical wellbeing.  (6:30)

Travis  goes on to question the difference between real isolation and perceived isolation. Dr. Cinko responds by saying “perception guides all that we do”. Dr. Cinko then discusses how perceived loneliness  feels the same as actual loneliness, but there are things people can do to solve their loneliness (8:11).

Specifically, in kids loneliness is such a problem for two big factors. The first factor is that kids naturally start to develop their self-esteem, their understanding of where they fit in the world, and who they are in relation to peers and adults who are not their parents.  This factor is being hindered by COVID-19. The second factor is things that kids normally do to feel better are taken away from us or are severely limited because of COVID-19.(10:30)

Isolation in and of itself is a huge risk factor to developing depression and anxiety. Dr. Cinko examines the reality that if a person has  depression, they are more likely to have anxiety and vice versa (11:07). There is a variety of factors that are making  people anxious. For example, kids may be concerned about the fact that there is a global pandemic, financial situations at home and  virtual school. Most kids are not adapting well and are struggling because of stress from grades, the world and home life.  Dr. Cinko bring about an example of a kid starting to spiral. She says kids start to spiral and start to think they don’t matter because they are disconnected from others. They start to internalize the idea that they don’t matter and then they tend to isolate further. This downwards spiral tends to quickly get to suicidal thoughts (13:25).

Travis then asks Dr. Cinko how people should balance the risks of balancing the risks of COVID-19 and isolation. Dr. Cinko states that there is and needs to be a balance (15:15). There are ways to connect to people even if you are not three feet away from them.  Dr. Cinko recommends talking on the phone and make video chats with family and friends. Those types of interactions are the ones that produce happy chemicals in the brain which help fight depression and anxiety (16:20).

The number one thing parents can do  right now is talking to kids on a real level and checking in on them. The more a child withdraws the more the parents should follow them and grab and pull them out of the hole they are going into. Parents should work through the resistance. Teens need parents, support, love, and guidance right now (16:55).

If social isolation continues, there will be higher levels of depression and anxiety and lower mental health outcomes as teenagers ascend adulthood. Loosing those skills of interacting with people and thinking positively that leads to anxiety in the life cycle (18:38).  On the other hand, kids are very resilient. They have this beautiful ability to grow and adapt and change.  Dr. Cinko  is hopeful kids can get back to a better place (19:33).

Guest:

Dr. Courtney Cinko – Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center

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