Talking to Kids About Mental Health

Here’s the bad news: Many millions of children in the United States deal with some type of mental illness. Here are some numbers:

9.4% of children aged 2-17 years (approximately 6.1 million) have received an ADHD diagnosis.
7.4% of children aged 3-17 years (approximately 4.5 million) have a diagnosed behavior problem.
7.1% of children aged 3-17 years (approximately 4.4 million) have diagnosed anxiety.
3.2% of children aged 3-17 years (approximately 1.9 million) have diagnosed depression.

Source: Children’s Mental Health

That’s a lot of kids! But here’s the good news: stigma around mental illness and psychological disorders is decreasing as more programs take aim at eradicating incorrect assumptions about mental health disorders and their treatments.

One of the best ways we can combat stigma around mental illness is by talking to our kids early and often about mental health and illness, as well as psychological treatment. The more we normalize these types of discussions, the better. Here are some tips for talking to your kids about mental health:


Be open about your own emotions. One way to help your kids become used to sharing their emotions, is by sharing your own on a regular basis. In a developmentally appropriate manner (i.e., using simple brief concepts with young kids, and progressively more complex words and concepts with older kids), try talking clearly about your own feelings: “Geez, that hurt my feelings when I didn’t get invited to Jenny’s birthday party,” or “I’m feeling a little overwhelmed with all the work deadlines I have this month,” or “I am so proud of the hard work you put into that homework assignment”


Be open about how you manage your psychological health. Try sharing with your kids what you do to manage your mental mental health. Sharing things like: “I’m going to be taking a walk this evening. It was a tough day at work, and the fresh air helps me feel less stressed.” or “I am feeling a little down today, I think I might call Grandma. Talking to her always helps me feel better.” Again, we want to keep these conversations developmentally appropriate, and our kids aren’t our therapists. However, sharing the healthy strategies we use to manage our emotions will provide them a template for when they need strategies to manage their own psychological health.


Make talking about mental health an everyday thing. We don’t need to talk about the state of our kids’ mental health every single day, but it’s best if it can be a pretty regular occurrence – say, a couple of times per week, for example. We want to get to a point where speaking about emotions and mental health is just as easy and normal as talking about the soccer team, your favorite TV show or the new super hero movie you want to see. Here are some questions to get you started:
”What are you excited about these days?”
“What’s on your mind right now?”
“How would you describe your mood today?”
“What are you worried about?”

The possibilities are endless, and each family needs to find their own, unique language for talking about mental health. But here’s a quick tip: Try asking questions that are open-ended, these tend to produce much more interesting conversations than those that can be answered by a simple “yes” or “no.”

Is Seasonal Affective Disorder Real?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Last week I wrote an article about the symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Today I am tackling some myths about SAD.

I recently got to be a part of an article over at Psych Central about some of the myths about SAD. Here’s a bit about why it gets so confused by so many of us:

 

 

 

 

Let’s get to the myths:

 

 

 

 

Want to read the rest of the article? Check it out:

Do You Have Seasonal Affective Disorder? Or Do You Just Hate Winter?

I was recently interviewed for an article about myths vs. facts of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).  Most people who suffer from SAD experience symptoms in the winter months, and it being the dead of winter (at least here in Colorado), this can be a really tough time of year.

But how do you know if you have SAD, or if winter is just long, annoying and unpleasant?

Here are some of the symptoms of SAD:

  • Extremely low energy most days
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Low mood
  • Having trouble sleeping/feeling sleepy a lot of the time
  • Feeling sluggish
  • Trouble enjoying previously enjoyable things

These symptoms come at a certain time of year with some predictability and regularity. Most people with SAD experience these symptoms in the winter months when there is less sunlight. But SAD also exists in the summer months when sunlight is plentiful.

SAD is NOT simply a dislike for winter, or a desire to drink hot chocolate and watch Friends reruns. It is a syndrome that has significant impacts on the the sufferer’s quality of life.

Check back in for SAD myths busted.

Want to Become a Psychologist?

Did you know that psychology is one of the top 5 most popular college majors?

There’s a lot you can do with a bachelor’s degree in psychology:

  • Become a teacher
  • Go to law, medical or nursing school
  • Work in business or sales
  • Get a job in community corrections, inpatient behavioral health or substance abuse treatment programs

In short, psychology is a great foundation for lots of careers.  But what about if you want to take your education in psychology further and become a psychologist?

I recently wrote an article over at HealtheCareers about what to think about before taking the plunge and entering graduate school to become a psychologist.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s one tip that might come as a bit of a surprise:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

5 Things NOT to Say to Someone Struggling With Depression

I was recently interviewed for an article over at:

…about what to say and what NOT to say to a friend/family member/co-worker who is struggling with depression. I love being a part of these kinds of articles because it really gives me a chance to air my annoyances out loud! And someone is actually listening!

Anyway, the article is actually really helpful – giving lots of ideas about how to approach someone who is feeling depressed. My favorite useless (and potentially harmful) piece of advice that’s often given to depressed folks?

ick.

and here’s why I don’t like it:

A similar piece of advice is to focus on the positives and be grateful. “These are pretty good ideas in general, but for someone struggling with mental illness, hanging a motivational poster in their room, and starting a gratitude journal isn’t going to cut it,” said Stephanie Smith, PsyD., a psychologist in private practice in Erie, Colo. “In fact, trivializing depression by assuming that a clever-sounding phrase can cure it, can do much more harm than good.”

Check out the entire article (including advice from one of my favorite psychologists, Dr. Deb Serani) here:

Embarrassed to go to therapy?

If we’re being completely honest about mental health care, and what prevents people from getting the care they need, we have to talk about the embarrassment factor. Even those of us who “know better” than to be ashamed and are aware of the “stigma” around mental health issues, can suffer from some embarrassment around seeking treatment for ourselves. We know therapy is OK for others, but for us? Hmmm…not so sure.

I was recently interviewed by Mainstream Mental Health Radio about the embarrassment factor when it comes to mental health care. I discussed who is susceptible to feeling some shame around starting therapy, including:

  • mental health professionals
  • health care providers
  • teachers
  • attorneys

…pretty much anyone. But those of us who know a little (or a lot) about psychology and mental health might find ourselves thinking the following:

  • I know so much about mental health, I should be able to fix this myself
  • I should be mentally stronger than this
  • I know other people struggle with mental illness, but not me
  • If I seek treatment, I’m pretty much admitting I’m a failure/fraud/weakling

In the interview I also talk about how all the public education that’s been done in the last couple of decades around mental health awareness has been fantastic. But we’re still not out of the woods in terms of understanding that mental illness has nothing to do with weakness or inferior character.

To listen to the interview – which also contains information about the mental health benefits of martial arts (who knew?!), check it out on Mainstream Mental Health Radio:

 

 

Food, Mood and Mental Illness

At first glance, it doesn’t seem like food and mental health would have much to do with each other. But actually, they go hand in hand. Appetite changes (eating more, or eating less) can be an important red flag, or symptom, when it comes to diagnosing mental illness.  For example:

  • Some people who suffer from depression notice that their appetite wanes as their mood becomes worse.
  • Others who suffer depression, or other mood disorders, may notice that their appetite actually increases as their psychiatric symptoms intensify
  • Still others might notice that their appetite patterns change (they’re hungry at times they never were before, etc) as their psychological health changes

Psychiatric medications can also change appetite and eating habits.  Stimulant medications, anti-depressants, mood stabilizers and other psychiatric medications used to treat mental illness all come with possible side effects.  For this reason, mental health providers and patients often keep a close eye on eating habits when a new medication is started, or dosage changed.

Want more information about food and mental health? Check out my recent article at:

And for recipes, stories and other ways food and mood go together, check out my Food and Mood page.

Am I Depressed? Just Tired? Something More Serious? Diagnosing Mental Illness

Diagnosing mental illness is difficult.  There are no blood tests for depression; no urine tests for panic attacks; no cheek swabs for schizophrenia.  And sadly, online questionnaires aren’t accurate diagnostic tools either.

I recently got to be a part of an article over at Psych Central about conditions and illnesses that mimic mental health disorders.  It’s an interesting topic because at its core, it means that we – as health care providers – need to be extremely careful and thorough when making diagnoses.  Here’s a quote from the article:

Having the correct diagnosis is vital.  It leads to a more precise, effective treatment plan…If we don’t know what we’re dealing with at the beginning of treatment, our interventions can be like shooting arrows in the dark; not very accurate and possibly dangerous.

Another point is:

Depression is a condition almost everyone is familiar with, so it can easily become a catch-all phrase or diagnosis.  But there are literally hundreds of other mental health disorders, one of which may better capture the symptoms you are experiencing.

To read the full article, check it out over all Psych Central:

Psych Central: The Many Conditions That Mimic Depression

Psych Central: The Many Conditions That Mimic Depression

What If You Knew Depression As A Doctor And A Patient?

One of my favorite psychologists is Dr. Deborah Serani.  She is quite the mover and shaker in the field of psychology.  She’s a professor, a clinician, an author – and she has also struggled with depression since childhood.  Dr. Serani recently gave a TedX Talk at Adelphi University.  Check it out:

Dr. Serani’s talk is incredibly moving. She gives a touching description of what it’s like to be depressed as a child. And also a very detailed account of her suicide attempt as a very young woman. Dr. Serani offers expertise on how to best manage mental illness, including “consistency, consistency, consistency” when it comes to psychotherapy and medication. I also appreciated the way she describes how self-care plays a part in managing her mental illness, including vigorously guarding her sleep, and being selective in who and what she lets into her life.

Dr. Serani concludes her powerful talk by offering words of encouragement to those suffering (and treating) mental illness:
“There is hope, there is healing.”

When You’re Too Embarrassed To Get Help

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I really wish I knew how many people think about starting therapy, but don’t actually do it.  Because my hunch is that it’s a whole heck of a lot.

We hear people talking about the stigma around mental illness and mental health treatment all the time, and honestly I think the one who suffers from this stigma is often ourselves.  Here’s what stigma against mental health treatment looks like when we use it on ourselves:

  • I should know how to fix this myself
  • I am a __________ (insert title: therapist, physician, teacher, etc), I should know how to deal with this on my own!
  • I am too smart to have anxiety (or depression)
  • I don’t have anything to feel worried or depressed about
  • I have good friends and a supportive family, I shouldn’t feel so bad

The fact is, public education about mental health has been so good in recent years, that most of us wouldn’t dream of saying any of the above statements to a friend, loved one, or stranger.  We know mental illness isn’t:

  • A choice
  • A weakness
  • A comment on one’s intelligence, place in the world or likeability

But yet some of us still say these unhelpful, untrue things to ourselves.  Why?  Because the stigma around mental illness still exists.  It’s fading for sure, but it has a long way to go.  So if you find that you are talking yourself OUT of getting mental health treatment, label those thoughts for what they are: junk.  Then pick up the phone and do what you need to do to take care of yourself.

To find a psychologist near you, check out APA’s Psychologist Locator service. It’s a free, easy place to start.