Understanding Mental Health

Did You Know?

February 2013 -
Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Ways to Make a Difference

It is no surprise in our busy daily lives that we are not free of the anxieties and stresses of our day-to-day experiences. When it becomes a constant strain that affects our ability to perform our every day tasks Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) may develop over time.

GAD is a reoccurring pattern of constant worry and having feelings of anxiety over many events and activities. GAD is very common and can be even seen in children. Genes or stress in a person’s life can bring on this disorder and it appears more often in women. GAD can cause symptoms such as having difficulty concentrating, fatigue, irritability, problems with falling asleep or not sleeping well, restless behavior, and being startled easily. Other problems people may have are physical symptom, such as muscle tension, being shaky, or having headaches. Stomach problems also may occur, such as nausea or diarrhea.

It is highly important that we find ways to reduce the daily stress in our lives by relaxing the mind and body. Doing this would help reduce feelings of anxiety and in the long run prevent more extreme problems, such as developing disorders. There are many different activities that one could do to relieve the daily stressors and relax. There is deep breathing and other breathing exercises that relaxes the body by counting and breathing. Other activities that can be relaxing are listening to music, taking a relaxing bath, exercising, going on a walk, or imagining yourself in a relaxing place. Exercises such as these help free the mind and give you a chance to relax your body. Doing these exercises can be easily incorporated in everyday life and may have a big impact on reducing anxiety and improving your mood.


January 2013 - Autism Spectrum Disorders and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) -- “a group of complex disorders of brain development” -- has become increasingly prevalent in the past decade, and is more commonly diagnosed in males. The numbers have jumped from 1 in 166 to 1 in 88 children. ASD is linked to the early developmental stages of the brain, and is commonly recognized around the ages of 2 to 3 years. The complications from ASD require complex treatment plans which may include Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).

ASD has a range of effects varying from mild to severe. The more severe the symptoms are the more difficulty the individual may have with emotional, cognitive, and social skills. Comorbid disorders (mood and behavioral) are typical in people with ASD.

Autism (or Autistic Disorder) is the most severe and usually includes intellectual difficulties, which strongly affect the ability to learn, comprehend, and present appropriate social skills. Asperger syndrome is a less severe form of ASD in which there is less likelihood of intellectual deficiencies but does include social difficulties and atypical behaviors. The mildest version of ASD is called Pervasive Developmental Disorder – Not Otherwise Specified which can include mild levels of some, not all, symptoms of ASD.

Depending upon the person’s mental capacity, they may be considered in a range of low to high functioning. Low functioning individuals have more intellectual disabilities; whereas higher functioning may include considerable speaking abilities but with low comprehension of conversations and social interactions.

Any level of ASD can include strong fears and anxieties. The symptoms can be as severe as in phobias and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). Having these exceptionalities can produce anxiety within the autistic person and can be further amplified by the anxiety felt by the surrounding family members.

Another complication is uncontrolled anger which develops from the level of immaturity and frustration within the individual with ASD. A child may not be capable of expressing emotions at all or may become over emotional. The frustration from this disability can initiate physical outbursts. These outbursts interfere with other learning abilities, which impede their social interactions. Early intervention is key in identifying the specific issues and constructing a treatment plan.

Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) is a major treatment being used for people who are experiencing various mood disorders. The therapy is constructed to help the individual assess their patterns of thinking and how their specific thoughts during certain situations affect their behavior. The individual and a professional discuss the thoughts which are behind specific negative reactive behaviors; develop new rational thoughts, and implement them so that the individual can become more aware and be in better control of their responses. Studies are now showing that CBT is effectively being used to help those with high-functioning ASD. This type of therapy is efficient, often producing positive results in much less time than conventional therapies.


American Psychiatric Association. (2000). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th ed.), Text Revision (DSM-IV-TR). Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association.

Autism Speaks, Inc. (2013). What is Autism? What is Autism Spectrum Disorder? Retrieved from http://www.autismspeaks.org/what-autism

for Disease Control and Prevention. (2010). Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/facts.html

Grandin, T. & Johnson, C. (2005). Animals in translation. New York: Scribner.

Hardman, M. L., Drew, C.J., & Egan, M.W. (2008). Human exceptionality: School, community, and family. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Sofronoff, K., Attwood, T., Hinton, S., & Levin, I. (2007). A randomized controlled trial of a cognitive behavioural intervention for anger management in children diagnosed with Asperger syndrome. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 37(7), 1203-1214.

August 2012:  What is Trauma Informed Care?
What is trauma?

Let’s start with identifying what exactly the word “trauma” means. A traumatic event can range anywhere from a person being involved in a life threatening accident, witnessing domestic violence, death of a loved one, parental incarceration, etc. It is important when working with children and families to know what their perception of what their trauma history looks like. Trauma causes lasting distress and disruption to the functioning of individuals. Trauma often effects how one responds or interacts in daily life situations.

What is Trauma Informed Care?

No one understands the path toward healing from trauma better than the person who is actually living with it. Trauma Informed Care allows the family to be the expert on what they view as their symptoms and needs when engaging in services. This then allows service providers to offer and organize services which are more personal and creative for the family. Trauma Informed Care generates a thought process toward “what happened to this person” rather than the old medical model of “what is wrong with this person.” Trauma Informed Care invites service providers to move toward an environment of collaboration from an environment of control.


One way of looking at it could be this: Three people are in an Emergency Room awaiting treatment. The first person tells the doctor that they have a cut on their finger. The doctor gives the patient a Band-Aid and sends them on their way. The second person explains to the doctor that they are suffering from a severe headache. The doctor gives the patient a Band-Aid and sends them on their way. The third person explains to the doctor they are having trouble breathing. The doctor gives them a Band-Aid and sends them on their way. The treatment given by the Emergency Room doctor was fair because each person received the same thing; However, the treatment provided was not tailored to the individual’s need which will lead to further and separate complications for each patient.

It is important for families and their service providers to work in partnership when identifying and providing services that are individualized to the family’s specific needs. It is often difficult for an individual to engage in a service when they feel as though a demand is being put on them. Trauma Informed Care can be a positive experience for someone if they are able to identify what they are willing to work on as they then become invested in the treatment process.

Check out this link which provides tip sheets when working with children exposed to trauma:   http://www.safestartcenter.org/resources/tip-sheets.php

February 2012 - Bullying - It's NOT Just Teasing

A hot button topic in the news these days is bullying. More and more we hear about the terrible negative consequences of children being taunted and tormented at school or online. One third of students report being bullied at school, and this number jumps to one half when we look exclusively at middle school students. We can all think of times when we have witnessed kids bickering or teasing, but when does “just teasing” turn into bullying? What can we do to protect our children from bullying and the negative consequences that come with it?

Most kids experience teasing by a friend or sibling at some point in their lives. Teasing is usually harmless when done in a playful, friendly way and both kids find it funny, but when it becomes constant, hurtful or unkind, it crosses the line into bullying. Bullying is intentional tormenting in physical, verbal or psychological ways. This can include kicking, hitting, name calling, threats, extorting money, taking possessions, gossiping, exclusion and spreading rumors. Bullying leads to lifelong scars and psychological damage that can disrupt quality of life.

In the past few years, bullies have now started to use the internet as a means of tormenting others. Cyber-bullying is the use of technology to say hurtful, mean, degrading or embarrassing things about another person. Cyber-bullies use social networking sites, text message, blogs, YouTube and on-line games as a means to assert power.

Bullied children are more likely to develop anxiety, depression and have thoughts of suicide. They experience social isolation and issues with negative self esteem and self worth. It can affect a child’s ability to succeed in school and develop healthy relationships. Bullying is not a problem that can take care of itself, it won’t just disappear on its own and kids shouldn’t have to “tough it out”. It is important to take bullying seriously and not to just brush it off.

We want to protect our kids from hurt and pain, but often kids that are being victimized try and hide the fact they are being bullied. Unless your child has visible injuries or bruises from bullying, sometimes it is hard to know that it is happening, but there are some warning signs to look for. If your child is acting differently or seeming anxious, not eating or sleeping well, is easily upset or moody it may be because they are being bullied. If your child seems to be avoiding certain situations, like taking the bus to school, or has stopped enjoying certain activities, like not wanting to stay after school for soccer practice, they may be avoiding a bully. If your child comes home from school hungry or has unexplained missing items like clothing, electronics or money, they could be being extorted and harassed by a bully.

But what can you do to help?

Make the first move -Talk to your child about bullying. They may not open up to you and admit they are being bullied but at least they know that you care and that you are there as a support for them. They may feel embarrassed and ashamed or worried you will be disappointed in them.

Share – Tell them experiences you or family members may have had with bullies and how you made it through.

Reach out for support – If you’re worried your child is being bullied contact the school principal, counselors, coaches, teachers or authorities. The more people you have looking out for your child the more likely it will be that the bullying will stop.

Step in – In some cases you may need to contact the parents of the bully or talk to police to make the bullying stop. If your child is being cyber-bullied contact the internet site or telephone company, bullying can often times violate the terms of service and the offenders can get their accounts closed.

October 2011 - What is Wellness?

Using the term “wellness” is a new trend in many arenas. We hear about it on the news, school fliers and from our health care providers. There are even billboards that promote new health insurance programs rewarding patients for their personal wellness.

So what is wellness?

Some may say wellness is eating a low fat, low sodium diet with lots of fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Others would suggest wellness means packing a gym bag and leaving the house at 4:30am to sweat it out before work. To many, wellness reflects a close tie to religious or spiritual beliefs that guide daily decisions and provide purpose. Whatever your definition is, it likely falls within one or more of these eight domains (Swarbrick, 2006):

Physical – Sleep, diet, exercise
Intellectual – expanding knowledge, learning, stretching our minds to try new thing
Emotional – STRESS level and how we cope
Spiritual – meaning and purpose
Social – a support system of some kind with positive connections to other people
Environmental – calm or pleasant home, neighborhood, etc.
Occupational – satisfaction with current work situation, whether we like our job, need a
                         job, don’t want a job, etc.
Financial – concerns regarding money, future, etc.

As we can see, wellness is so much more than skipping the ice cream and going for a run. It is the balance of many aspects of life through which we find satisfaction. We may be stressed emotionally but we have the skills to regulate those emotions, identify the source and try to cope. We may feel stress at the moment but we have a plan to find balance and the tools to get there. If we are currently dissatisfied with our intellectual well-being we would not expect to gain IQ points but rather we may read a book on a new topic or sign up for a computer class at a local agency.

Wellness does not mean perfection in all eight domains but rather some level of satisfaction with each. It means addressing problems as they arise and doing what we can to balance our well-being across these domains.

Take some time to think about your wellness and how you feel about these eight domains of your life. Are you well? If not, do you have the tools to improve your wellness? Consider each domain listed above and identify the one in which you feel most well. What is it in your life that keeps that in balance? In which domains do you struggle? What people or things in your life keep you from feeling well in that domain? Are there resources you need to improve wellness that you have put off or do not know how to access? Think of a way you can address that area and get started today!

See also: Self Determination Tools Wellness and Mental Health Tools

Swarbrick, M. (2006). A wellness approach. Psychiatric Rehabilitation Journal, 29(4),

December 2010:  The Joy of the Holidays!!

More than any other time of the year, the Holidays represent a time to give thanks for ALL WE HAVE.

There are a number of things you can do to help ensure that you get the best out of your holiday season. All it takes is stopping for a moment and remember what the holidays are all about. All it takes is a moment to:

~ Listen to a Holiday song

~ Give thanks for whatever you do have

~ Watch a snowfall

~ Admire the Holiday lights

~ Wrap a present

~ Wish someone a Happy Holiday

~ Give thanks for your health

We spend so much of the holiday season in a frantic stress-filled rush that it’s easy to forget what this time of year was meant to be for us. Taking a minute to stop gives us the time to reflect, not on all the bad and misfortune you’ve had, but on the blessings you’ve received throughout the year. If that feels hard to do then spend a moment with a 4 year old child. Watch the sparkle in their eyes as they speak about the miracle of the season and try to think of yourself as that small child. Then a snowfall becomes a marvelous thing, the Holiday lights become a wonder and the season a time to hold your breath and make your wishes come true. You may find yourself saying, “Peace on earth, good will towards men.”

Have a truly wonderful Holiday!

October 2010 - ADHD: What does it really mean?!

You always knew your child seemed a little too active. You silently compared them to other children you’ve seen and noticed that your child never really seemed to just blend in with them. At first you told yourself that your child was just an active child and that he’d outgrow it, but it never seemed to get any better. Then, someone finally told you that your child might have ADHD. You’ve heard this term before but what does it really mean?

You look it up and find that ADHD stands for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. You read a little about the symptoms and it seems like they’re describing your child in particular. You suddenly start asking yourself if your child is going to be this way the rest of their life. To make matters worse, someone utters the “m” word (medication). Now there’s a little panic in your thoughts.

Now that you’ve been through all that, let’s looks at some of the facts. First and foremost, because your child looks like they may have ADHD does not mean that they do. Many children are active and no two children act alike, so before you panic make sure that you’ve taken your child to a professional who can properly diagnose what, if anything, could be going on. The there are two other facts to consider. One, you’re not alone. You’re not the only parent to feel like this. According to the Summary Health Statistics for U.S. Children: National Health Interview Survey, 2008, over 5 million children in the United States are diagnosed as having ADHD. And two, there’s an almost 50% chance that even if you’re child has ADHD they will grow it on their own.

ADHD does not have to feel like a lifelong sentence and years of problems trying to get your child to behave. The best way to handle the concern that there may be something to consider with your child is to first talk to those who know them, their teachers and their pediatrician. Ask lots of questions.

Remember, the person who knows them best is you.


September 2010: What’s a Diagnosis and why does my child’s diagnosis keep changing?

Let’s address the first part of this question, “What’s a diagnosis?” The easiest explanation is that it is a way of labeling what your child’s behavior looks like. The word “Diagnosis” is actually a Greek word that means to “Identify the cause of an event.”

Now most people do not like the word “label” when it comes to their children’s mental health. There have even been books written on why we should never use these kinds of labels. What most people need to know however is that we use labels all the time. It is how we communicate to each other. In medicine, labels are used to identify an illness, such as cancer, high blood pressure, etc. When you can identify what the illness is, you have a better chance of being able to treat it properly and the difference can save your life. Imagine going into an ER and telling the nurse you believe you’re having a “heart attack” versus telling the nurse you have a “stomach ache”. Those labels will tell the nurse what direction to start working with you on. The same applies to a mental health label or diagnosis.

In the United States and for that matter, most of the world, the book doctors use to “diagnosis” a child or an adult is the DSM or the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Every few years, doctors come together and review the book and make changes based on what they’ve learned about mental illness. The latest version is book 4 but you’ll see it listed as the DSM IV. In this book are all the childhood (and adult) diagnoses along with the behaviors or actions associated with it that help define the illness. Doctors will then sometimes use medications to help treat these diagnoses, the same as when a doctor gives you medication to help with your high blood pressure or diabetes.

The second part of the title question, “Why does the diagnosis keep changing?” is a little more difficult to explain. Part of the problem is that it is very difficult sometimes to make an accurate diagnosis. Defining and labeling behaviors, moods and emotions is not as clear cut as it is in other medical fields. Add to this, the fact that many of the diagnoses have similar behaviors and moods. For example, ADHD has some of the following behaviors associated with it – inability to sit still, lack of concentration, anger and sadness. Another diagnosis, Anxiety Disorder, also has the same characteristics. So a doctor may start treating one diagnosis only to find out later that there are other characteristics that may explain your particular concerns better, which leads to another diagnosis and another way to treat.

The key to helping your child with any issue is to stay informed, give as much information as you can and ask lots of questions. The more you know the better the chance of really helping your child get the proper diagnosis.


August 2010: Sleep Patterns

Let’s talk about sleep patterns. Don’t think you have one? Well, the truth is we all do. Ever hear the term – jet lag? Jet lag occurs when our bodies cross time zones. The more time zones you cross, the greater the jet lag. People who often travel back to the US from Asia often report a week or two of jet lag when day and night become confused and our bodies cannot get accustomed to the time we find ourselves in.

Our bodies are regulated by our sleep patterns. If our sleep pattern is disturbed our body and our brain try to compensate by putting the disturbance into our normal sleep pattern. What does this mean? Say, for example, that you are awakened by a sudden noise at 3am. Your brain will often go into an adjustment stage where it will regulate that into you sleep pattern. So, guess what happens? You suddenly find yourself waking every morning at exactly 3am. It’s your body’s way of developing into a natural rhythm.

So, what’s your natural sleep rhythm? Most people really don’t know and others will tell you that they think they know. Some people call themselves “morning people” or “evening people”. Others call themselves “insomniacs” because they can’t get too sleep or don’t stay asleep throughout the night. We spend thousands of dollars each year trying to figure out why people sleep too little or too much. We build industries behind medications aimed at helping you sleep or building the “right” bed that “guarantees” you a good night’s sleep.

We spend a third of our lives asleep. But the truth is that sleep researchers still don't know why we need to sleep. According to National Geographic® some researchers regard sleep as one of the greatest unsolved mysteries of science.

So, can we change our sleep patterns? Yes and a new study by Clifford Saper from the Harvard Medical School found an easy way to do it. Simply stop eating during the 12-16 hour period before you want to be awake. Once you start eating again your body will be fooled into thinking you’re having breakfast and will start at that time as a new day. So, if you want to wake up at 3 am on Wednesday, stop eating anything by 3pm on Tuesday. When you wake at 3am on Wednesday have a good breakfast. This research has found that your sleeping pattern can be changed in 1 Day!! You will now start waking each morning at 3am.

July 2010: Increasing Your Brain Power

There are any number of ways to increase the power of your brain. Many of these include everything from exercises that can heighten your awareness to diet changes that will increase memory and attentiveness.

One of the best ways to increase your brain power is to get enough sleep. Experts say that all of us need at least 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep in order to help our brains function normally. Researchers found that it is during the seventh to eighth hour of our uninterrupted sleep that we move our most recent short-term memory into long term memory. What that means is that if we want to remember something, such as the information for a test, or a recent recipe, or the name of that person you just met today, then we need that time in order for our brains to process that information so that we can recall it later when we need it. Remember, the key here is uninterrupted sleep not total sleep. Sleeping for 5 hours and getting up and taking a 3 hour nap later does not help your brain. Also remember that we cannot make up sleep. Sleeping later on weekends only disturbs your sleep pattern.

There are a series of exercises you can do for your brain called Brain Gym® exercises. Developed by the Educational Kinesiology Foundation and based on 80 years of research, these exercises enhance learning abilities. Teachers report improvements in attitude, attention and behavior in the classroom and help children excel in math, spelling and reading. These exercises not only help children with ADHD and behavior but can also help adults. You can learn more at www.braingym.org.

Diet is also very important in terms of boosting your brain power. Changing your diet and nutrition can have positive affects on your memory and concentration as well as prevent brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s. Always consult with your doctor before changing to and staying on any diet plan.