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National Children???s Mental Health Awareness Day

by Rocco Landesman

HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius offers remarks at the interagency task force convening

HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius offered remarks at the first ever-convening between our two agencies in March 2011. Photo by NEA staff

Today is Children???s Mental Health Awareness Day, an annual observance that encourages communities across the country to discuss, celebrate, and raise the visibility of issues and resources around the mental health of our nation???s young people. The national effort is spearheaded by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). I spoke with HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to learn more about Children???s Mental Health Awareness Day and how the arts can play a part in this important issue.

ROCCO LANDEMSAN: What is National Children???s Mental Health Awareness Day and how did it come about?

KATHLEEN SEBELIUS: National Children???s Mental Health Awareness Day started as a grassroots effort in Oklahoma in 2004 when a SAMHSA Children???s Mental Health Initiative grantee celebrated community partnerships in an effort to raise awareness about children???s mental health. The idea caught on and in 2005 SAMHSA supported a national awareness day to help bring visibility to the local activities. The number of national Awareness Day collaborating organizations has grown from four in 2005 to 134 in 2012.

We use this observance each year to raise awareness about the resilience of children with mental health problems and the effectiveness of mental health services. This year Awareness Day is being celebrated with a national event in Washington, DC, and more than 1,100 communities and 130 national organizations will be involved in Awareness Day activities.

LANDESMAN: I know this is the seventh year of this program. Is there a particular focus to this year???s events?

SEBELIUS: The theme of the national event is ???Heroes of Hope.??? We define a ???Hero of Hope??? as a caring adult who provides ongoing support to a child or young person in need. This year there is a special focus on children and youth served in child welfare, juvenile justice, and education systems who have experienced a traumatic event and have thrived in spite of the challenges they face. Through dance, poetry, and spoken word, youth will pay tribute to Heroes of Hope at the National Awareness event. During the event, I will have the opportunity to present an award to Cyndi Lauper for her work on behalf of homeless LGBT youth.

LANDESMAN: How can the arts play a part in supporting the mental health of children???whether or not they are trauma survivors? And can you please speak briefly about some of the medical and scientific research that supports the positive linkages between the arts and health?

SEBELIUS: Art therapists work with youth to express their emotions when words alone are not sufficient. Creative expression of their feelings can help young people process challenges associated with trauma and conflict. Engaging young people with mental health problems in the arts can increase self-esteem and coping skills and can help them reach their full potential.

Some of the more promising work in this area was featured in a 2011 white paper The Arts and Human Development: Framing a National Research Agenda for the Arts, Lifelong Learning, and Individual Well-Being. When we released the paper with the NEA, we also jointly launched an Interagency Task Force on the Arts and Human Development comprised of 15 federal entities, including SAMHSA.

LANDESMAN:  What are some practical ways in which we can support the mental well-being of our children at home or in school?

SEBELIUS: There are many ways that adults can support the well-being of the children and youth in their lives, including: spending time with them, creating positive expectations, cultivating their interests, reinforcing  them with praise and encouragement, providing appropriate limits and boundaries, and building their self-confidence.


Children with strong vocabulary show boost in self-control

According to a study published in the Early Childhood Research Quarterly journal, three little words may help young children increase their self-control abilities. Those three little words aren???t what you think. Encouraging children to ???use your words??? builds their vocabulary, which helps children to regulate emotions and behavior. Researchers discovered that vocabulary development proved to be even more important in helping boys increase their self-control abilities.

Claire Vallotton, PhD, and Catherine Ayoub, PhD, followed children participating in the National Early Head Start Research and Evaluation study from the time they were 1 year old up to 3 years old. They discovered that boys with a strong vocabulary showed a dramatic increase in their ability to self-regulate as compared to boys with vocabularies not as strong.

Research in Action: ABC Music & Me

ABC Music & Me supports the development of key school-readiness skills, such as listening, self-control, and turn-taking. Our weekly lessons also significantly boost language and literacy skills, including vocabulary development. Picture vocabulary cards support unit-by-unit vocabulary, comprehension, memory, and pre-literacy skills. We give teachers the tools they need to increase a child???s vocabulary knowledge and then actively begin ???using their words??? in the class.

Ron Huxley Regulates: I was drawn to this article at the work “regulation.” This has become a big word in children’s mental health and hopefully parenting education will follow suite. Attachment researcher Daniel Siegal defines regulations as “the way the mind organizes its own functioning???fundamentally related to the modulation of emotion???Emotion regulation is initially developed from within interpersonal experiences in a process that establishes self-organizational abilities.???

Stated in plain English, regulation is how children achieve self-control and manage impulses. Language, as the original blog post describes assists us in forming structure to our emotional energy and manage them. It is crucial in our brain development and connects to other important social constructs like moral behavior, abstract thinking/reasoning, planning, and judgement.

A question we could ponder is which comes first, the chicken or the egg? Do we develop language and then achieve regulation or do we achieve regulation and then master language. I think they go together myself.

Share your thoughts…

Dads get depressed too


There is some interesting research on the link between depressed dads and its effects on their children. This supports much of the posts I have written on the importance of father/child bond. The research is summarized by Child-Psych.org at http://bit.ly/mvo6nu: “The current study used a nationally representative sample of fathers of one year-olds, 1,746 dads in total.

The men answered questions in four different areas: interactive play (e.g., peek-a-boo), speech and language interactions, reading to the child, and spanking. Whether or not the fathers had talked with their child’s pediatrician during the past year was also assessed. Seven percent of the fathers in the study reported being depressed during the past year. Seventy-seven percent of these dads also had spoken with the pediatrician over the past year… there were no differences between fathers that were not depressed and those that were in their reports of playing interactive games and singing songs/nursery rhymes with their children. Depressed dads were less likely to read to their one year-olds and much more likely to spank them.”

Conclusions of this study focused on the relationship between a fathers well-being and the child emotional and academic abilities later in life. As you might expect, the higher the depression in dad, the lower the functioning of the child. In addition, there is a connection between how aggressive dads were in their discipline. A higher percentage of dads spanked or acted out of anger with their children. Why do I keep harping on this topic? I want dads to be aware of and accept how vital there role is in the life of their children. I want others (moms and society in general) to be more mindful of the need to educate and support dads in this role. As men, we don’t get the same amount of formal or informal training to be parents as moms. More focus is needed for men to rise to the challenge of parenting.

    Depression and Parental Insightfulness


    Research articles often have a “duh” factor when it comes to outcomes in various studies. After you read them you think “I could have told you that!” The up side of academic studies is that they point a laser light of attention on areas of life that need attention. Society seems more willing to spend money and time on correcting problems when we draw a big circle around a social problem in the lab.

    This was true, for me, of a study on the level of parental insightfulness and maternal depression (see clip below). The findings of the study was that mom’s (why do we always study moms!) who were depressed are less likely to be able to see life from the vantage point of their children. This results in less emotional attachment and parenting effectiveness. The obviousness of this research is that mom’s or dad’s that are depressed are less likely to see much of anything outside of their own internal pain. This isn’t a slam on depressed parents. I have experienced it and it isn’t purposeful. Depression is usually due to a chemical imbalance and requires professional interventions that may or may not involve medications.

    I mention this study on the blog because I want draw a big circle around this issue and say that the long-term effects of a poor attachment between parent and child can have some serious effects on self-esteem and future relationships. I guess this is a call to action for anyone who feels they are depressed, even occasionally. Help yourself and your child by getting some help. There is plenty of help available, from changing diets to clinical therapy. I have found that playing with my child lifts my mood even when I was tired and emotionally down.

    “Insightfulness is seen as the mental capacity that provides the context for a secure child–parent attachment. It involves the ability to see things from the child’s perspective and is based on insight into the child’s motives, a complex view of the child and openness to new information about the child. To test our hypothesis that maternal insightfulness is related to maternal depression, we utilized the Insightfulness Assessment (IA) developed by Oppenheim and Koren-Karie to conduct and analyse interviews in which mothers discussed their perceptions of video segments of their interactions with their children. We compared the results of a control group of 30 mothers without a diagnosis of depression with a sample of 23 mothers diagnosed with depression (International Classification of Diseases, 10th Revision). As expected, depression was negatively related to maternal insightfulness.”

    Source: onlinelibrary.wiley.com Share what you have done to increase your mood and deal with depression by leaving a comment below or posting on our Facebook ParentingToolbox Page.


    17 Hugs A Day


    Give Hugs!

    My wife and I have a joke that we tell each other and family members: It takes a minimum of 17 hugs a day to feel normal. I will confess that there is no scientific research that supports 17 hugs per day therapy…at least not yet. Nevertheless, we have come to recognize that need for touch and have adopted the idea that hugs, at least 17 is what gets us through the daily life hassles.At a recent conference on Attachment Theory, where there was some real scientific data, a presenter on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder stated that data suggests that the little stressors of everyday living can add up to the same effects of someone who has undergone a single, major life trauma, like a robbery or death of a loved one or car accident. We let these little incidents of life go by without any real concern. Perhaps we feel embarrassed to admit how much a poor marriage or teenager defiance or even workplace stress really does affect us.Can parents acts as prevention specialists for our children. As adults, we need 17 hugs just to maintain normal living. Our children need them to counter the cumulative effects of stress on their lives to avoid PTCS – Post Traumatic Childhood Stress. If you don’t believe there is a such a thing, just observe children interacting on a play ground. There are some mean things thrown back and forth on the jungle gym, let me tell you! Add to that some homework pressures and the constant media bombardment of negative words and images and what child wouldn’t feel slightly traumatized? As parents, the least we can do is give some touch therapy with a few hugs a day.John Bowlby, the great attachment theorist, stated that attachment is essential to normal development (see my blog post on this here). Guardians are supposed to be our safe haven from life. Home should be a place of refuge from the constant stress of school and work. Granted, there are chores and homework to be done but how can you carve our 30 minutes a day for some connection. Parents are quick to use Time-Out, how about some Time-In? It might be good for mom and dad too.Starting today, give a few more hugs than usual. It is OK to start slow and work your way up. And yes, teenagers love them too. You just have to be a little more crafty in your approach. 


    Putting your worst parenting foot forward

    I have spent a lifetime being defensive. The world, frankly, is a harsh place to live and over time one can become quite hyper vigilant and self-protective. It takes some risk to put yourself out there after suffering rejection and betrayal. Unfortunately, that is the only way to live in an intimate relationship with other people, like your family.I get that there are abusers out there and it may not be wise counsel to open yourself to that. I am not asking for anyone to be a victim. I am addressing the more basic, day-to-day willingness to be open and non-defensive. I have spoken about the benefits of this in other posts on TransPARENTcy, etc. It may be worthwhile to read those posts.Try an experiment with me: Put your worst foot forward. Instead of covering up your mistakes or telling little white lies about your parenting performance, try sharing a parenting issue you really want to change about yourself. You will have to pick the right moment and to be safe, the right person at first. After you do that, ask for some honest feedback. I mean really honest. Look the person in the eye and don’t talk until they are done. If they hedge their comments, ask for further clarification until you get to the bone of truth. Finally, state your appreciation and willingness to consider incorporating that information. Take the next 24 hours to do just that.I wonder what response this will initiate in others? I am curious what it will do to you if you can live in a non-defensive position? Protecting ourselves takes energy. Lots of it. What would happen with all that creative juice if you applied it to making your parenting better versus avoiding change?Change is uncomfortable but nothing real and satisfying is achieved by avoiding it. The biggest therapeutic truth I know (I didn’t say I always practice it) is that you have to go through the pain to get to the other side. I wonder what that other side will look like for you in your closest relationships.Share your experiences with this by leaving us a comment or tweet us @ronhuxley or go to our Facebook page!


    Depressed Teenagers: The Problem, Risks, Signs, and Solutions


    Image by Feuillu via Flickr

    Is your child sad or appear to have no affect at all? Is yourchild preoccupied with the topic of death or other morbidtopics? Has your son or daughter expressed suicidalthoughts or ideas? Are they extremely moody or irritablebeyond the normal hormonal twists and turns of childhood?Has there been a drastic change in your child’s eating orsleeping patterns? If you answered yes to any of thesequestions, your child may be suffering from a common butdevastating mental health disorder, called depression.The Problem:Depression occurs in 8 percent of all adolescent lives.Research indicates that children, in general, are becomingdepressed earlier in live. The implications of this is that theearlier the onset of the illness the longer and more chronicthe problem. Studies suggest that depression oftenpersists, recurs, and continues into adulthood, andindicates that depression in youth may also predict moresevere illness in adult life. Depression in young peopleoften co-occurs with other mental disorders, mostcommonly anxiety, disruptive behavior, or substance abusedisorders, and with physical illnesses, such as diabetes.The Risks:Teenagers often turn to substances to “self-medicate” thefeelings of depression. They reject prescribed medicationsbecause of the way it makes them feel and because of thenegative social implications of being labeled as depressed.Drinking alcohol and using other substances may maketeenagers feel better for a short period of time but the needto continually use these substances to feel “high” createsdependence and poses a serious health risk. Depressionin adolescence is also associated with an increased riskof suicidal behavior. Suicide is the third leading cause ofdeath for 10 to 24-year-olds and as much as 7 percent ofall depressed teens will make a suicide attempt.The Signs:Signs that frequently accompany depression inadolescence include: • Frequent vague, non-specificphysical complaints such as headaches, muscle aches,stomachaches or tiredness • Frequent absences fromschool or poor school performance • Talk of or efforts torun away from home • Outbursts of shouting, complaining,unexplained irritability, or crying • Being bored • Lack ofinterest in playing with friends • Alcohol or substance abuse• Social isolation, poor communication • Fear of death •Extreme sensitivity to rejection or failure • Increasedirritability, anger, or hostility • Reckless behavior • Difficultywith relationshipsParents often witness these warning signs but fail to act onthem. Why? Because some teens hide the symptoms fromtheir parents or parents chalk it up to a stage ormoodiness. Many teenagers go through a time of darklooking/acting behavior with all black clothing and bizarrehair arrangements. This can throw a parent off of the trail ofdepression by the bewilderment of teen actions andbehaviors. In addition, many teens react aggressively whenconfronted about possible depression by their parentscausing mom and dad to back off.The Solutions:When dealing with teen depression, it is always better to“be safe than sorry.” Coping with an adolescent’s anger ismuch easier to deal with then handling his or her successfulsuicide or overdose. When parents first notice the signs ofdepression, it is important to sit down with their teen andask them, gently but firmly, if they are feeling depressed orsuicidal. Contrary to popular belief, asking a child if he orshe has had any thoughts of hurting or killing themselvesdoes not cause them to act on that subject. If the teenrejects the idea that they are depressed and continues toshow warning signs, it will be necessary to seekprofessional help.If the child acknowledges that he or she is depressed,immediately contact your physician and seek the assistanceof a mental health professional that works with children andadolescents. In addition, parents can help their teen byconfronting self-defeating behaviors and thoughts bypointing out their positive attributes and value. Parents mayneed to prompt their teen to eat, sleep, exercise, andperform basic hygiene tasks on a daily basis. Doing thesedaily routines can dramatically help improve mood. Try todirect the teen to hang out with positive peers. Steer themaway from other depressed adolescents. Exploreunderlying feelings of anger, hurt, and loss. Even thesmallest loss of a friend or pet can intensify feelings ofsadness. Allow the teen to talk, draw, or journal about theirfeelings without judgment. And for suicidal teens, make a“no-harm” contract for 24 to 48 hours at a time when theywill not hurt themselves.With proper care and treatment, depression can bealleviated and suicidal behaviors prevented. Parents andteen may even find a new, deeper relationship developingbetween them as they work through the dark feelings ofdepression.Reference:National Institute of Mental Health Web Site. “Children andDepression: A Fact Sheet for Physicians.”http://www.nimh.nih.gov/publicat/depchildresfact.cfm