Preventing Youth Suicide: Strategies That Work

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American children are taking their own lives at an alarming rate. Over 7 percent of high school students say they engaged in non-fatal suicidal behavior, while 17 percent say they seriously considered suicide within the previous year, according to a nationwide survey. For children under 15, the prevalence of death by suicide nearly doubled from 2016 to 2017. Considering these sobering statistics, it’s no surprise that suicide has become the second leading cause of death for youth between the ages of 12 and 18.

Sadly, many parents don’t recognize the signs of depression in their children until a crisis occurs. It can be difficult to determine the difference between normal adolescent behavior and something far more serious. For National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day I want to use this opportunity to share strategies that have been proven to decrease suicidality in children and teens.

A few years ago a teenage girl named Alyssa* came to me for therapy, along with her family. She described feeling disconnected from her parents, who didn’t understand her interests. She spent a lot of time in her room watching anime, playing video games, and chatting with her friends online. Like many young girls, she had negative experiences with peers at school and felt acute academic pressure.

Her parents saw no cause for alarm until they were contacted by a concerned school counselor, in whom their daughter had confided. When they learned Alyssa had thoughts about harming herself, they decided it would be safest to place her in a hospital while they made a plan to address her challenges, which included anxiety and depression.

Prevention Is Key

Fortunately, Alyssa turned to a trusted counselor for help. For individuals concerned about child suicide, a number of protective factors have been shown to help reduce the risk of suicidal behavior. These include community connectedness, abstinence from drugs and alcohol, close family relationships, strong peer support systems, and regular involvement in hobbies or activities. Joining activities that promote positive self-expression (music, art or drama) or self-efficacy (such as sports or skill-based activities), and continuing them through adolescence, can support building a positive and stable identity, the primary task and stress of teenage years.

Other protective factors are more difficult to cultivate. People with a positive self-image, strong problem-solving skills, and the ability to regulate their emotions tend to be more able to cope in times of increased stress. If a child is struggling in these areas, especially while distancing themself from family or friends, it may be time to think about family therapy. Engaging teenagers in therapy isn’t easy, so building a trusting relationship with a mental health professional early for youth with heightened risk factors is instrumental in suicide prevention.

Working with youth also comes with a unique set of challenges. They can be more impulsive, have trouble seeing a long-term perspective, and be heavily influenced by their friends and online relationships. These are just a few reasons why it’s important to find a therapist with extensive experience treating youth. The right professional can advise parents on what’s typical versus when to access other services, and how to keep channels of communication open.

Trust Evidence-Based Therapies

When a child is in therapy for suicidal thoughts or actions, it’s critical to use an evidence-based treatment approach. As a career therapist and Director of Youth Shelter Services at Grafton Integrated Health Network, my team and I rely on the CAMS model. Short for Collaborative Assessment and Management of Suicidality, CAMS was developed over 30 years ago to specifically assess and treat suicidal risk.

This method uses a highly individualized approach that allows patients to be actively involved in the development of their own treatment plans. Rather than shaming youth for their suicidal behavior, our therapists take an empathetic and non-judgmental approach, which helps us identify and treat the root causes of the client’s suffering. In randomized controlled trials, the CAMS model has been shown to more accurately assess the need for acute hospitalization and reduce suicidal thoughts.

We know this approach works. With the help of a psychiatrist, music therapist, and individual and family therapy using mindfulness and cognitive-behavioral interventions, Alyssa was able to feel more hopeful and connected, while reducing her thoughts of suicide. Her therapy included identifying and working towards positive future goals, improving problematic communication patterns, increasing connection in activities with supportive peers, and following a safety plan.

There is no quick fix for youth suicide, but promoting good mental health and seeking professional help early is the best prevention we have. It’s also never too late for a child and family to seek the right supports to build resiliency and move towards recovery.

* Patient name has been changed to protect privacy.

If you are in crisis, call the toll-free National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The service is available to anyone. All calls are confidential.

Preventing Youth Suicide: Strategies That Work

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On Stage on the Spectrum

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About three years ago, I got an email publicizing a drama school called the Center for Applied Drama and Autism, C.A.D.A. I was instantly interested. A year before, my 10-year-old son Tommy had been diagnosed with autism. I had always wanted him to get into acting because I’d acted as a child, having been in shows such as Gypsy and Fiddler on the Roof at local dinner theaters. Tommy seemed as though he would be a natural because he had the ability to memorize scripts (he was an avid scripter; people who are autistic often are), and he was very funny.

The school was in downtown Akron, about fifteen minutes away from our home. I signed him up. Soon, one Saturday a few weeks later, we entered an old building on Main Street and searched for the acting studio. Down a staircase we went and soon we found ourselves in C.A.D.A.

Tommy was going to take improv. Improvisation classes, we would learn, are good for autistic people because they help them to be better communicators (learning to think on their feet) and ultimately find their own voices. These classes were also fun.

We’d done traditional social groups at centers for people on the spectrum, but these had turned out to be unsuccessful because they lacked vital context and purpose. Acting encouraged the participants to be social, but also to be creative, making up narratives and scenarios.

The first day at improv, Tommy and his classmates warmed up doing an exercise called “Zip, Zap, Zop,” in which they passed energy to each other. Then, they did an exercise called “Mirrors,” in which they mimicked each other as if they were looking in a mirror. Then came a game called “Bus Stop,” where they pretended to be waiting for a bus in a character of their choosing. Soon, they would be acting out fairy tales and even learning Shakespeare.

Tommy took to it. There was only one problem. Well, really two problems. The first was that there was a very loud service bell that people rang so that they could get in the building which was often locked. This service bell unnerved Tommy. He had sensory issues, so the bell was a hindrance in his play. The second problem was that I got cancer, and Tommy fell apart. While I was getting treatment, we had to stop going to drama for a time. But I survived cancer, and then, something else wonderful happened. C.A.D.A. moved! No more service bell. C.A.D.A. relocated to what is known as their blue box theater in Akron, where they currently reside.

Now in 2019 at the blue box theater, Tommy takes improv from Ruben Ryan and Brandon Meeker. He goes every Saturday. And he’s getting good. He can sustain a scene and create original dialogue that is purposeful and entertaining. Improv helps him stay in the moment, to be in the moment, completely engaged and fascinated with people and life. This is saying something for someone on the autism spectrum, who might often be disengaged and out of touch.

So whose brainchild is C.A.D.A.? C.A.D.A. was co-created by Wendy Duke, a drama teacher for over 40 years, and Laura Valendza, an actor and intervention specialist.

C.A.D.A.’s philosophy is as follows:

Our goal is to meet our students where they are now, and without coercion, help them to recognize their own abilities and gifts through empowerment and making connections. We do not wish to change the uniqueness of each student, but rather help each one deal with social and emotional situations that will occur throughout their lives.

We do this via individual and collaborative applied drama techniques such as theatre games, improvisation, role play, character study, voice and body work, mask work (commedia dell’ arte), and Play Back Theatre. Additionally, we encourage creativity and originality through student created puppet plays, playwriting and video production. Visual art, dance and music are all key components in theatrical productions and give our students an opportunity to expand their artistic gifts and interests.

What does all this mean? For a parent of a child on the spectrum, it means that my kid can study acting at a world-class acting school right in our own little Akron, Ohio.

Recently, Tommy was asked to be a “co-star” at C.A.D.A. This means that he will work with a class of younger students as sort of a mentor/helper. Tommy’s father and I couldn’t be more thrilled. Tommy has gone from a timid pre-teen who was frightened by everything, including a loud service bell, to a full-fledged teenage actor in a leadership role.

If your child has autism, you might consider enrolling him or her in acting classes in your hometown. I’m sure acting courses can benefit your child. These classes have made all the difference in Tommy’s life.

On Stage on the Spectrum

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Psychology Around the Net: March 30, 2019

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Do you struggle breaking the ice during social or networking situations? Are you interested in spring cleaning your energy this weekend? Have you had some negative mental health experiences with fitness apps?

We’ve got the latest on each of these and more in this week’s Psychology Around the Net!

Psychologists Agree: ‘Tell Me About Yourself’ Is the Only Icebreaker You’ll Ever Need: Talking to new people at a social function or networking event can be tough, especially for people with social anxiety. How do you get their attention? How do you start talking to them? How do you break the ice? Psychologists say the best way to do all that is with four simple words: tell me about yourself. Personally, I kind of freeze up and experience more anxiety when people ask me to tell them about myself (OMG what do I say?!), but here are six tips to help us all navigate the “tell me about yourself” process from start to finish.

Air Pollution Tied to Mental Health Issues in Teenagers: A recent study involving more than 2,000 British teenagers whose health researchers followed from birth until they turned 18 years old has associated urban air pollution with an increased risk for psychotic experiences. According to the study, almost a third of the participants reported they had experienced at least one psychotic experience, ranging from mild paranoia to a more severe psychotic symptom, since the age of 12.

9 Ways to ‘Spring Clean’ Your Energy: Entertaining “blah” thoughts, cluttered and dusty personal space, losing motivation to keep up healthy routines — you have to admit, these and others are ways your energy can get junked up during the dark winter months. Now that spring is here, let’s look at some of the ways you can clean that energy up.

These ‘Wear Your Meds’ Buttons Tackle the Stigma of Taking Mental Illness Drugs: Have y’all heard of the #WearYourMeds movement started by Lauren Weiss? Essentially, you wear a button (or buttons, depending) that depicts the mental health medication you take (alternatively, you can purchase a button that reads “Wear Your Meds”) as a way to, ideally, act as a conversation starter to promote mental health awareness. Although it’s not affiliated with the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), all proceeds do go to NAMI. Thoughts?

Sports Psychologists Say Running Apps May Be Damaging Your Health: My knee-jerk reaction to this title was, “What?! I love my C25K app!” After reading the article, I realized the professionals make some good points. Sports psychologists Dr. Andrew Wood and Dr. Martin Turner believe fitness apps (and running apps in particular), which generally are designed to help us meet certain fitness or training goals, could do us more harm than good by contributing to an unhealthy relationship with exercise (and our need for social media validation).

Pope Francis Wants Psychological Testing to Prevent Problem Priests. But Can It Really Do That? ICYMI: The Catholic Church is dealing with one sexual abuse scandal after another lately. Now, Pope Francis has announced a policy he wants to implement worldwide — one that would, ideally, prevent any man from becoming a priest if he can’t pass a psychological evaluation proving he’s suited to a life of chastity. However, scholars, researchers, and even others in the Church are questioning whether or not this is actually possible.

Psychology Around the Net: March 30, 2019

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Psychology Around the Net: March 23, 2019

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Ever wonder how food affects your mental health? Do you think social media addiction should be formally classified (and should the companies behind them be taxed for help)? What’s your stance on Amy Schumer’s discussion of her husband’s autism spectrum disorder diagnosis?

Let’s discuss it all and more in this week’s Psychology Around the Net!

Nutritional Psychiatry: Can You Eat Yourself Happier? We’re not talking about eating your feelings but eating foods that actually affect your feelings. After struggling with anxiety and depression throughout most of her life, Felice Jacka, the head of the Food and Mood Centre at Deakin University in Australia and president of the International Society for Nutritional Psychiatry, found that her diet, exercise, and sleep had a major affect on her mental health. Before you scoff (duh, don’t we already know this?), her findings initially weren’t received with open arms. Now, a ton of research, studies, and and peer-reviewed papers under her belt, it’s obvious what we eat affects our mental health.

Fluctuation of Depressive Symptoms May Help Predict Suicide: According to a recent study published in JAMA Psychiatry, the severity and fluctuation of depressive symptoms are better at predicting suicide in at-risk young adults than psychiatric diagnoses alone. Says the study’s senior author Dr. Nadine Melhem, “Our findings suggest that when treating patients, clinicians must pay particular attention to the severity of current and past depressive symptoms and try to reduce their severity and fluctuations to decrease suicide risk.”

Social Media Addiction Is a Real Disease, U.K. Lawmakers Say—And Facebook and Google Must Be Taxed for It: The negative effects social media can have on mental health — especially teen’s and young adult’s mental health — is no news. We’ve been talking about it for years. Now, U.K. lawmakers aren’t just saying that social media addiction should be formally classified as a disease, but they’re also kicking it up a notch and claiming the companies behind social media platforms should have to pay a 0.5% tax on their profits to help solve the problem.

7 Things to Stop Doing to Yourself When Life Doesn’t Go as Planned: Frankly, my life isn’t going quite as planned right now. This was helpful, and so I’m passing it along.

New Study: Performance-Based Pay Linked to Employee Mental Health Problems: Pay-for-performance compensation systems such as bonuses, commissions, piece rates, profit sharing, and individual and team goal achievements — which are prevalent in approximately seven out of 10 companies in the U.S. alone — are meant to act as incentives; however, according to this big-data study that combined objective medical and compensation records with demographics, these systems are actually taking a negative toll on employee mental health.

Amy Schumer Tells Why She Revealed Her Husband’s Autism Spectrum Diagnosis: Since her latest Netflix special, Growing, began streaming last Tuesday, fans and non-fans alike have talked more about how Amy Schumer discusses her husband Chris Fischer’s diagnosis than anything else in the show. Some are offended, claiming she had no right to talk about his health; others are fine, stating we shouldn’t jump the gun because, you know, Chris is her husband and therefore probably knew — nay, probably was consulted — about it long beforehand. Well, according to Amy during her appearance on NBC’s Late Night with Seth Meyers, “We both wanted to talk about it because it’s [the diagnosis] been totally positive.” She then goes on to talk about the tools and resources they were given, how they’ve managed life and marriage, and how they both want to encourage people not to be afraid of the stigma. So, yeah. It sounds like Chris wasn’t a pawn in his wife’s comedy routine, nor was he ignorant to what she was going to say. Watch the interview clip.

Psychology Around the Net: March 23, 2019

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To Others Who Have Experienced Trauma as Children

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Most of us have real anger and suffering living inside us. Perhaps in the past we were oppressed or mistreated, and all that pain is still right there, buried in our store consciousness. We haven’t processed and transformed our relationship with what happened to us and we sit there alone with all that anger, hatred, despair and suffering. If we were abused when were young, every time our thinking mind goes back over that event, it’s like we’re experiencing the abuse all over again.– Thich Nhat Hahn

The #MeToo movement, including Dr. Ford’s testimony on the Senate floor in 2018, was an eye-opener for many of us. Even though I personally had experienced sexual assault and figured others had too, I was not prepared for the staggering number of brave women and men who publicly came forward to share their experiences of pain and violation. I also wasn’t prepared for the amazing feeling that this movement could actually change the climate that our daughters and sons grow up in.

By the time most of us reach adulthood, we have experienced some form of trauma, ranging from heartbreak to the more intense physical, sexual, and emotional abuse. Though the actual trauma may have been experienced decades ago, often there are hidden tender and hurting spaces in its wake.

Healing is a lengthy process, even years after the event, things can happen that “trigger” a traumatic response. That is, current events in our lives that are not directly related to the trauma we experienced can evoke a reaction that is more intense than the situation at hand deserves. What happens when we are overreactive is that we are no longer in the present. However, by being aware of when we are triggered, and working on maintaining our calm and presence, we are, in fact, helping our children and ourselves.

Psychologists who study the long-reach of trauma will note that when your child enters the age that the parent was when they experienced a traumatic event, a deep part of them will relive the experience. This is beyond a simple remembering of the event — it is as if we’re actually re-experiencing the trauma. This is critical to keep in mind so that we are not blind-sided when the kids reach that age in which we experienced a significant loss or abuse.

I believe the human system is built this way so we can heal unresolved issues from our earlier wounding. It also may be a survival mechanism, in that our hypervigilance helps us protect our children by warning them of dangers in their environment. However, like most automatic survival mechanisms, these processes can take on a life of their own. That is why it’s critically important to use these uncomfortable situations as opportunities to set the course for the next generation. To harness the hidden power in these circumstances by becoming aware of when you’re triggered and before stepping into overreaction, use the trigger as a signal to get centered.

How do you know when you’re triggered? For me, all of a sudden I feel overly anxious, overly angry, or conversely, like I want to withdraw and hide. I examine whether or not a real danger is evident. In nearly every single case of being triggered, there actually is no real danger (if there is, please address it immediately and maybe even get backup help).

If there is no real danger, this is the critical moment. Breathing deeply and naming feelings “worried, scared, agitated”, can lead to healing. Yes, it’ll reduce the likelihood that you’ll act from the wounded place, but it will also help you soothe the hurting places. As if you were a loving parent to yourself, nurturing and healing the wounded places.

I’ve noticed that being kinder to myself reduces the likelihood that I’ll act out from the painful residue of the trauma. It’s an act of cultivating unconditional friendliness towards ourselves. We embrace the scared and vulnerable parts of ourselves, instead of pushing the challenging emotions away through reacting or overreacting.

When I am in a triggered phase (which when it is really bad, can last for most of a day and even span a couple days), I start my day by talking to the wounded little girl inside of me. I place a hand on my heart and on my abdomen (the Grounding Hand Posture), and I tell my younger self that I (the adult protectress) am here now. I comfort those wounded places within me with the knowledge that I am present and in charge, and that I will guide the hurt parts of myself with my mature wisdom, with strength and with kindness.

By emotionally taking care of ourselves through tending the emotional wounds and anxieties, we are less likely to act from the painful residual trauma. And we begin to remove the fear of our own emotions, which only serves to separate us from our self and those we love.

Use your triggers as an opportunity to deepen your friendship with yourself. Call upon your courage, which you likely have in spades. You’ll be more connected to the reality of the present moment. This, in turn, will increase the likelihood that your actions will arise from the most centered part of you.

Compassionately paying attention to ourselves has added benefits — of interrupting the transmission of trauma between generations, and of drawing any lingering shameful feelings out of the darkness and into the light. These earlier challenging experiences can become our opportunity to embrace ourselves with unconditional friendliness, to change the social climate that our children grow up in, and to powerfully reclaim our truth as we stand in solidarity.

To Others Who Have Experienced Trauma as Children

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OCD and Autism

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I have written before about atypical presentations of obsessive-compulsive disorder in children, where I discuss how the symptoms of OCD are sometimes confused with autism, schizophrenia, and even Bipolar Disorder. I’ve also written about how diagnosing these various conditions can be difficult, as symptoms of each one often overlap. Sometimes it is easy to forget that we are talking about a whole person’s state of being, not just a specific diagnosis. No doubt people have manifested symptoms of these various illnesses long before the disorders were differentiated by names.

Still, a proper diagnosis is important to move forward with appropriate treatment, which varies for each above-mentioned disorder.

To confuse matters more, it is not unusual for someone to have comorbid mental health disorders — more than one diagnosis. As I discussed here, when my son Dan was diagnosed with OCD, he also received diagnoses of depression and Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) as well.

What doctors have recently confirmed is that autism and OCD frequently occur together. Autism and OCD initially appear to have little in common, yet studies indicate that up to 84% of people with autism have some form of anxiety and as many as 17% might have OCD. Additionally, an even greater proportion of people with OCD might also have undiagnosed autism. A 2015 study in Denmark tracked the health records of almost 3.4 million people over 18 years, and researchers found that people with autism are twice as likely as those without to be diagnosed with OCD later in life. The same study found that people with OCD are four times more likely than others to later be diagnosed with autism.

It can be tough to sort it all out. OCD rituals can resemble the repetitive behaviors that are common in autism, and vice versa. Also, people with either condition may have unusual responses to sensory experiences. Some autistic people find that sensory overload can readily lead to distress and anxiety, and the social problems people with autism experience may contribute to their anxiety as well. Anxiety is a huge component of OCD also, so it gets complicated.

How do we distinguish the two, or determine if someone has both conditions? It is interesting to note that people with both OCD and autism appear to have unique experiences, distinct from those of either condition on its own. Also, a crucial distinction found in this analysis is that obsessions spark compulsions but not autism traits. Another finding is that people with OCD cannot substitute the specific rituals they need with different rituals. Says Roma Vasa, director of psychiatric services at the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore, Maryland:

“They [those with OCD] have a need to do things a certain way, otherwise they feel very anxious and uncomfortable.”

People with autism, on the other hand, often have a repertoire of repetitive behaviors to choose from. They just need to perform rituals that are soothing, not necessarily a particular behavior.

More research is needed, not only in the area of diagnoses, but also treatment. The gold standard treatment for OCD is a Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) known as exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy, but for those with both autism and OCD, it often does not work well. Whether this is due to auditory-processing difficulties, cognitive inflexibility, or something else, might vary from person to person. Researchers are trying to adapt CBT for people with autism, and agree that a personalized variation of the therapy can be beneficial.

We have a long way to go in figuring out just how OCD and autism are connected. Just knowing that there is a connection, however, should help clinicians when they are diagnosing and treating their patients.

OCD and Autism

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7 Ways to Help a Child Deal with Traumatic Stress

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Life is stressful. That’s a fact. To grow and learn we must try new things. Struggling, prevailing, and tolerating failures along the way builds confidence and the deep feeling in a child that “I can do it.” But the positive aspects of struggle and stress are lost when the amount of stress becomes too great and/or sustained.

Persistent and long-lasting stress on the mind and body caused by overwhelming emotions leads to traumatic stress, a condition characterized by a nervous system in overdrive. The brain’s emotional centers lock into a state of DANGER and the body operates in fight, flight, and freeze modes.

Traumatic stress feels awful. The body tenses and succumbs to many other physiological changes leading to digestive problems and headaches, for example. Furthermore, children overwhelmed by emotions can’t engage positively in learning as curiosity in the outside world is a byproduct of a calm nervous system, not one that’s in a state of high alert.

Imagine for a moment what it feels like when you are terrified. Do you feel well? Do you feel like learning, engaging in life, socializing with others? No! When children and adults alike are terrified, we want to run away, hide, and find safety again as soon as possible so we feel better. When we are scared, we feel vulnerable and insecure. After a while, we feel hopeless, numb and even dead inside. Depression, chronic anxiety, substance abuse, isolation, and aggression, are all symptoms of traumatic stress.

So, what can be done to help a child experiencing traumatic stress? Help them to feel calmer. Here are 7 ways:

1. Be with them — connection is soothing.

John Bowlby, the father of Attachment Theory, taught us that children need to feel safe and secure to thrive. It may seem elementary, but the first aspect of creating safety for a child is being there so a connection can be established.

A child with traumatic stress is scared (even if they don’t appear so on the outside, like how a bully or aggressive child may present). Simply having someone in the room can be a comfort even when there is push-back from the child. Being alone heightens fear.

2. Be gentle so as not to inadvertently startle or jar a child.

A child suffering traumatic stress is fragile and prickly, a byproduct of a hyper-aroused nervous system. We live in a very left-brain dominant culture where we don’t talk nearly enough about emotional safety conveyed through right brain communications. Right-brained communications are the non-verbal cues we unconsciously pick up from one another. Right-brain communications include tone of voice, eye contact, and body language.

Adults should strive to speak in a gentle, calm voice with soft eyes and slow movements to avoid jarring or startling a child. Just think about how you like to be approached when you are upset.

3. Play fosters safe positive connection, and positive connection is calming.

Play feels good and healthy for all people no matter what age. According to Polyvagal theory, play stimulates the social engagement system of the vagus nerve, the body’s largest nerve, and therefore relaxes the nervous system.

Play helps a child feel better and calm down. But play involves so much more than a game. It involves connection, smiling, speaking with a cheery and playful tone of voice, and movement. All of those actions calm a child.

It may seem counter intuitive to initiate play with a child under stress, but if they are receptive, it gives the nervous system a chance to calm down. Even if for a little while, a moment of playfulness is good.

4. Help a child name their feelings.

Putting language on emotions helps calm down the nervous system. We can use stories, our own personal stories or ones we create, to help a child put language on their emotions. For example, a mother could share with her traumatized child, “When I was little, my mother went away for a long time. She was sick, so she had to go to where doctors could help her. Even though I understood why she went away, I was still so sad and scared. And, sometimes I even felt angry at her for not being there for me. All those feelings are so natural.”

There are many ways to help children put language on their feelings. You can show them drawings of little faces with many feelings and they can point to the ones they relate to. You can help a child name their feelings with games, drawings, and puppets.

5. Help a child express their feelings.

Emotions contain impulses that generate biological energy. This energy needs to be expressed so it doesn’t get pent-up inside. For example, if a child is in danger, their brain will trigger fear. Fear sends signals throughout the body, setting off impulses to run. But if a child is in a situation where they cannot run to safety, like being restrained by Mexican border patrolmen, all that energy gets trapped in the body and leads to symptoms of traumatic stress.

Helping a child express their emotions can be done in a variety of creative ways, such as the through art, play, stories, fantasy, puppets, or by helping the child verbally or physically express themselves. You should feel free to experiment and take your cues from the child for what works best. Cues to look for that indicate you are helping a child are expressions of relief, happiness, calm, and a desire to play and connect more. If an intervention is not helping, you’ll see a child’s face and body demonstrate more tension, sadness, anger, rigidity, and withdrawal.

6. When a child accepts it, give hugs and other physical affection.

Holding, rocking, stroking, hugging, and swaddling can help soothe a stressed nervous system. Again, take your cues from the child. If they don’t like something, don’t do it. You can tell by the way the child looks and reacts if they are responding positive or negatively. If they stiffen, it’s a protest. If they relax and soften, that’s a green light.

7. Reassure a child and help them make sense of what’s happening.

A little reassurance goes along way. Be explicit! Say things like, “You will be ok,” “This feeling is temporary,” “You are not alone,” “It’s not your fault,” and, “You don’t deserve this.”

Don’t lie to a child. Do look for truthful ways you can reassure them that they are safe now and will not be alone. Explain what has happened and what is currently happening. For example, in the case of parental separation, “Mommy and daddy are safe and soon you will see them again. Until then, we’ll be together every day and I’ll take care of you.” Reassuring a child that they didn’t do anything bad and that they matter helps because children internalize shame, a sense that they are bad or unworthy when they feel bad.

Humans are wired for connection and thrive in conditions of safety and security. When safety and security is compromised, we must do everything we can to restore a child’s sense of safety and security as fast as possible. There are many educational resources available to adults that teach how to minimize stress and foster recovery in children. The cost to our society is great when our children suffer.

7 Ways to Help a Child Deal with Traumatic Stress

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OCD Treatment: More Important Than School or Outside Activities?

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Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is an often misunderstood and complicated illness. It can latch on to anything that is important to us, and has the potential to totally devastate lives.

Still, so many people believe it is nothing more than excessive hand washing and the desire to keep things tidy. This could not be further from the truth. For the purpose of this post, I’ll be referring specifically to OCD in children.

When OCD makes an appearance in a family, it often brings about fear and confusion. For one thing, obsessive-compulsive disorder manifests itself differently in everyone. Truly, there is no end to the ways it can present itself in addition to the stereotypical compulsions mentioned above. A few examples include eating issues, refusal to leave the house, irrational fears of certain people, places, or things, and the inability to complete previously easy homework assignments. You name it, it just might be OCD.

Which leads us to the next issue that faces parents of children with OCD — getting a proper diagnosis. Misdiagnosis is common, which of course leads to the wrong treatment. Even when OCD is properly diagnosed, the right therapy, exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy is often elusive. What’s a family to do?

For those lucky enough to receive a proper diagnosis and referral to good treatment, you’d think the children would be on their way to recovery. However, that is not always the case – I’m hearing from more people than ever who are in this situation. While various forms of intensive treatment (intensive outpatient, partial hospitalization programs, or residential treatment centers) are often recommended for their child, many parents are concerned that a commitment to intensive treatment will disrupt their child’s life. For example, Kate loves dance and she’ll miss some classes and the recital, Jake will miss a good chunk of fourth grade if he does a particular ERP program, and Ashley will miss a few social events and have to tell her friends what’s going on (or lie).*

Obviously, the children discussed in the above paragraph are not totally debilitated by OCD. Not yet, anyway. And it very well could be that they are balking at the idea of treatment. For children who can’t leave the house, or are not able to function to any extent in their daily lives, the decision to seek treatment is typically easier — they have already hit bottom. But many parents of children who are teetering on the edge don’t seem to want to take away the few things that still make their children happy, or “normal.”

As an advocate for OCD awareness and proper treatment for over ten years, I cannot stress the importance of getting the right help for obsessive-compulsive disorder sooner rather than later. OCD rarely gets better on its own, and once entrenched, is harder to treat. So, for all those out there who might be in this situation, please get your child the right help as soon as possible. Friends and activities will come and go. Even missing a significant amount of time in school can be made up. But a child who grows into a young adult with untreated OCD might very well be so disabled by the disorder that he or she can’t even hold down an entry-level job. Getting good treatment now will free your child from the grips of OCD and allow him or her to go on to have a wonderful life.

*These are not their real names.

OCD Treatment: More Important Than School or Outside Activities?

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Frequent Problem Behavior in Your Child? This Might Be Why

This is an interesting article I found on: www.psychcentral.com

See credits below.


Having to deal with problem behavior in your child can leave you feeling frustrated and helpless. But what if this behavior was sparked by anxiety?

A number of studies have found that children’s inability to process difficult emotions often leads to what commonly comes across as “problem” behavior. This may look like uncontrollable tantrums, unpredictability and impulsiveness, extreme clinginess, an inability to do what is expected (for example, an inability to follow simple instructions in school or at home), developmental difficulties, uncontrollable anger, extreme reactions, defiance and aggressive or dangerous behavior that puts your child or those around him in danger.

There is now solid evidence that the behavior of children suffering from high anxiety closely resembles that of children with behavioral disorders.1 What this means is that a child unable to manage her anxiety may be diagnosed as suffering from common disruptive behavior disorders such as attention deficit hyperactivity (ADHD), conduct disorder or oppositional defiant disorder (ODD).

Part of the problem associated with misdiagnosis lies in the fact that it is not always easy to establish what drives your child’s behavior. When dealing with a violent or extremely disruptive child, it may be difficult to make the connection between anxiety and the behavior displayed. In other words, a highly anxious child will not tell you that he doesn’t want to go for his swimming class because he doesn’t know how to swim and is scared of making a fool out of himself. What he is likely to do is go into defense mode to avoid that class, and this may translate into disruptive behavior, aggressive behavior toward his classmates, disrespect and a refusal to follow instructions, and so on. In reality, all these are simply attempts to escape his swimming lessons.

Problem behavior is often an attempt to escape from anxiety-provoking situations and other difficult emotions associated with such situations. By this I mean that although anxiety may be the primary emotion experienced, other secondary emotions such as fear, panic or shame can also develop alongside the primary emotion.

That said, all hope is not lost. Indeed, being aware that anxiety or other strong emotions may be behind your child’s behavior is a great starting point to help you deal with problem behavior more effectively.

Here are three things you can start doing today to better manage the impact of emotions on your child’s behavior:

1) Get the conversation about emotions going.

How would you define frustration? Emotions are not always easy to put into words, even for adults; imagine how hard it can be for your child to navigate big emotions. The first and most important thing to do is to teach her about different emotions using age-appropriate techniques. She needs to know that she is safe to express her emotions.

Appropriate techniques for kids include games, holding conversations around characters in the book she’s reading (“He sure looks sad”), asking the right kind of questions (“what made you happy today?” talking about your own emotions (I was sad when…), and so on.

2) Learn to anticipate anxiety-provoking issues.

The thing with anxiety is that it’s pretty good at hiding, but there are always ways to get around it. The easiest way is to pay close attention to your child’s behavior in order to determine anxiety-triggering situations. It is always easier to deal with a highly anxious child before the situation gets out of hand. What you need to remember is that just like in adults, there is a strong link between anxiety and a need for reassurance — You matter, no matter what!

Ultimately, teaching your child to identify how his body feels when he’s feeling anxious is a great way to help him learn to identity and manage anxiety by himself.

3) Teach your child to succeed on her own.

Dealing appropriately with strong emotions is about having a set of tools, some form of “tool box” that your child can use any time she needs to. Help your child identify appropriate responses to anxiety. Help her come up with “power cards” that give her a visual example of how she can deal with anxiety. Let her know that she has what it takes to deal with strong emotions by herself. No one said this will be easy, but by taking small steps toward the development of your child’s emotional intelligence, she is bound to get there.

Anxiety in children is a very common phenomenon and often lessens with time as your child learns to better react to difficult situations. That said, it can also be a sign of a more serious problem. Please seek professional help if none of your attempts seem to be working or if you feel unable to manage this behavior on your own.

Frequent Problem Behavior in Your Child? This Might Be Why

Footnotes:

  1. Moskowitz , L.J., Walsh, C.E., Mulder, E., McLaughlin, D.M., Hajcak, G., Carr, E.G., & Zarcone, J.R. (2017). Intervention for Anxiety and Problem Behavior in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder and Intellectual Disability. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 47(12): 3930-3948.Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28283846 []

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Psychology Around the Net: January 26, 2019

This is an interesting article I found on: www.psychcentral.com

See credits below.


This week’s Psychology Around the Net takes a look at children taking mental health days, the definition of relationship cycling and what it can do to your mental health, career advice for having not only a successful but also a happy career, and more.

Enjoy!

Women Urged to Put Mental Health On Pre–Conception Checklist: Just like a healthy diet and exercise routine, maintaining a healthy weight, and avoiding smoking and alcohol, addressing her mental health should be on a woman’s pre-conception checklist. Researchers have found that women who have depression before conception are more likely to experience depression after giving birth, which can, according to Dr. Katrina Moss of the University of Queensland School of Public Health, “have a negative influence on parenting” and affect children’s psychosocial outcomes.

I Will Always Let My Kids Take Mental Health Days: Speaking of parenting, here’s one momma’s story about how she discovered that children — just like adults — can benefit from mental health days.

Having Stressed Out Ancestors Improves Immune Response to Stress: A new study suggests that having ancestors who were regularly exposed to stressors could improve your own immune response to stressors, and these results suggest we should consider family history when trying to predict or understand the health implications of stress.

I Felt Something After KonMari-ing My Home—But It Wasn’t Joy: She might not have felt joy, but what she did feel was definitely positive and something we can all benefit from feeling — especially when it doesn’t seem like there’s much else in life giving us that feeling at the moment.

‘Relationship Cycling’ Is Messing With Your Mental Health: According to new research published in the journal Family Relations, people who engage in “relationship cycling” — repeatedly breaking up and getting back together — aren’t doing their mental health any favors. While it might make for entertaining television, movie, or book plots, in real life it causes and/or increases stress, anxiety, and depression and according to the study’s co-author Kale Monk of the University of Missouri-Columbia, the highs and lows aren’t even worth it in the end as relationship cycling was “linked to poor relationship quality, including impairment in satisfaction, commitment and communication.”

What’s the Best Career Advice You’ve Received? Check out some advice these students, employees, and other career professionals have received — and have to give — to help guide you toward a career that brings happiness and fulfillment.

Psychology Around the Net: January 26, 2019

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