Category: autism

Your child’s ADHD diagnosis could be wrong, leaving other issues untreated

Your child’s ADHD diagnosis could be wrong, leaving other issues untreated

Inattention and distractibility are caused by many medical conditions and life situations.  You child may not have ADHD or ADD if they didn’t show signs when they were young.

Children don’t just catch ADHD or ADD

If your child has a behavioral change you haven’t seen before, there may be an underlying medical or co-occurring mental disorder that’s causing ADHD symptoms… especially if they’re on ADHD-ADD medications which are not working well.

“It is vital not to mistake another medical or psychiatric condition as ADHD.”
Richa Bhatia, MD, Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association

The medical conditions listed below produce ADHD and/or ADD symptoms such as slow processing speed, impulsive behavior, and limited attention and focus.

  • Epileptic seizures: some types cause a brief freeze in thinking–the child’s brain goes blank for a few moments (“absence seizures”)
  • Diseases of the brain: Lyme disease, HIV infection, parasitic and viral infections, brain tumors
  • Brain damage from head injury or toxins (e.g. narcotics)
  • Chemotherapy side-effects, “stupor”
  • Hypothyroidism.  Too little thyroid hormone results in memory, attention, and concentration problems. It decreases blood flow in brain regions that mediate attention and executive functioning (the hippocampus and cerebral cortexes).
  • Hyperthyroidism. At the other extreme, too much thyroid hormone causes anxiety and tension, irritability and impatience, and hyperactivity and distraction.
  • Sleep apnea. A condition where a child stops breathing during sleep, for a few seconds to a few minutes several times per night.  The following day, the child can’t pay attention, remember, or follow a sequence of steps.  It also causes hyperactivity and belligerence.


Mental health disorders with ADHD-like symptoms:

Anxiety disorders are common to most other mental health conditions, and create problems with concentration.  The chronic stress from anxiety affects the brain regions responsible for memory and cognitive functions.   If a child does not have a history of ADHD symptoms, than significant and pervasive anxiety may be the cause of inattention and distraction.

Abuse or trauma. Difficulty concentrating is one of the core symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and recent abuse or trauma can cause agitation, restlessness, and behavioral disturbance—symptoms that mimic ADHD.

Depression – Difficulty concentrating also is a criterion for major depressive disorder.

Bipolar disorder – ADHD symptoms are apparent in children with suspected bipolar disorder. Both disorders can cause distractibility, increased energy, and instant mood swings. (Some children are eventually diagnosed with both disorders.)

Drug abuse using marijuana, cocaine, ecstasy, produce similar symptoms of ADHD because they affect the same brain regions affected by anxiety.  MRI scans of the brain were taken of young children who were exposed to cocaine in the womb. The scans revealed frontal lobe malformations which predicted long-term problems with attention and impulse control.

Common stimulant foods and beverages with excess caffeine or sugar

Insomnia from medical conditions. Sleep plays a huge role in memory and attention. Sleep disorders (e.g., sleep apnea, restless legs syndrome) can produce chronic tiredness and significantly reduce attention, concentration, and cognitive functioning in children, adolescents, and adults.

Plain old lack of sleep in healthy children can cause inattention and reduce academic achievement.  There are many causes of sleep loss:  early school hours; screen time at least an hour before bed (because the blue light suppresses sleepiness); or allowing the use of technology in the bedroom at nighttime.  What helps getting to sleep and staying asleep:

  • A cool, dark room
  • Thirty minutes of reading or drawing on paper before lights out.
  • Removing phones, laptops, or desktops from the bedroom at night.


Learning disorders:
Children with an undiagnosed learning disorder often present with ADHD symptoms. An undiagnosed reading or mathematics disorder (dyslexia), or an autism spectrum disorder that’s not yet diagnosed, can have a significant impact on classroom behavior.  The child might not be paying attention because of his (her) restricted ability to grasp the subject matter, or because they are frustrated and irritated with the struggle to keep up.

Caution:  Teachers often report a student’s inattention and confused thinking to parents, and suggest a diagnosis of ADHD when the real problem may be lack of sleep or something else.  It’s useful to hear classroom observations of your child, but teachers are not trained in mental health diagnosis—get a second opinion from a professional!

More on the consequences of untreated ADHD or another underlying disorder is in this article:  “ADHD kids become troubled adults.”

–Margaret


Subject matter was drawn from this article by psychiatrist Dr. Richa Bhatia.

“Rule out these causes of inattention before diagnosing ADHD”
Richa Bhatia, MD, FAPA, Current Psychiatry. 2016 October; 15(10):32-C3

How to pick the ideal therapy pet for your child or teen

How to pick the ideal therapy pet for your child or teen

“A pet is an island of sanity in what appears to be an insane world. Whether a dog, cat, bird, fish, turtle, or what have you, one can rely upon the fact that one’s pet will always remain a faithful, intimate, non-competitive friend, regardless of the good or ill fortune life brings us.”
–Boris Levinson, PsyD, Child Psychologist

Any animal can be a therapy pet, but put thought into finding the ideal pet

It depends on your child’s individual needs and his or her innate appreciation of or connection with the creature.  Parents often think of furry animals like dogs or cats or “pocket pets” as the best therapy animals.  Dogs and cats are the most common, but they are not the only effective options.  (And some are problematic:  perhaps a family dog or cat is of no interest to your child, or is stressful because its behavior–easily agitated cats and chronically fussy dogs aren’t therapeutic!

What fascinates your child? What do they want–what creature(s) are they drawn to?  And are you willing to take care of this pet?  Your child’s therapy pet is not a lesson in responsibility… though that may be an outcome someday.  The pet is a therapist first, not a teaching tool.  Since you may be the responsible one, the pet must work for your needs and household too.

The right creature will reduce your child’s stress and continually delight them in some way.

Dogs and cats

Under the best circumstances, the right dog or cat will choose your child, calming them down or drawing them out of their shell. Dogs and cats are ideal for symptoms of anxiety, autism spectrum disorders, or depression. The right dog or cat is calm, loyal, and patient, and helps an insecure child or one who can’t handle emotional demands. Dogs also support physical exercise, and provide opportunities for significant life lessons.

True story – Some juvenile prison systems have dog programs, where the inmate is assigned a troubled shelter dog to train and teach appropriate dog behavior. Young inmates often empathize with a dog’s abuse history, and training the dog helps them learn patience, forbearance, and anger management.  The trained dogs are them adopted out to the community.  A program I personally know about has had very positive outcomes.

Pocket pets

Pocket pets help children who like touch, and bring out a child’s nurturing side. Small animals can also be playful and amusing–ferrets have especially silly antics.  It’s important the pet likes to be held, but it’s also important to prevent it from escaping and hiding. Their small size and habitat needs are better for small living spaces, and they can go anywhere with the child in a small carrier.  A concern may be their shorter lifespans. Is your child able to handle loss and learn from it?

Birds

Birds are smart ‘pocket pets’ and very loyal to the person they bond with.  A bird that’s purchased young or been hand-fed as a chick is tame and will readily perch on a child’s shoulder or finger… or happily hide out in a pocket.  Most birds can be taught words, whistles, or even songs in human language.  They are pretty, charming, highly interactive, and long-lived.  Birds are good for depressed children who need energy and stimulation, and children with ADHD who need attention and interaction.  Like a pocket pet, a bird can also travel with a child in a small carrier.

Reptiles

Reptiles aren’t often considered as therapy pets, but reptile lovers will tell you that they are indeed therapeutic and have inidividual personalities. Most are quite beautiful. Many like to be held and carried.

“She fell asleep in my shirt and nobody saw her. I noticed I was able to communicate with other people without problems. When I started to feel anxiety I put my hand over her and it calmed me downI was able to go in [a store], do what I needed to do and get out without a panic attack.”
–Teen with social anxiety disorder speaking about her Bearded Dragon.

Ask if a pet store will allow your child to hold one of their reptiles for sale.  Common pet store lizards that are good for children are:  leopard geckos, bearded dragons, and iguanas (which need lots of handling at first).  Like other small animals, reptiles can escape. Turtles are usually easy to find, but not lizards or snakes.  There are lizard leashes on the market for this reason.  Most snakes available on the market like to be held, or will accept it if handled often.

Fish

Beautiful calming aquariums are excellent sources of visual delight and serenity. There is a reason aquariums are placed in waiting rooms and in psychiatric hospital settings.  They provide gentle entrancing movement in a miniature natural world—they are healing like Nature is healing.  An aquarium is good for children with intense anxiety they can’t express, often with schizophrenic or autistic symptoms.  The soft bubbling sound can be calming because it is steady and hides noises that may overstimulate a child who’s grappling with a stream of upsetting thoughts.  Read more about “calming rooms” and how visual and audio environments help children with tantrums, “Calming room ideas to prevent tantrums in autism and other disorders.”

Insects (yes, insects)

I have two stories about therapy with insects

True story – A depressed 9-year-old boy was regularly teased at school, then came home to a single mother who was always too distracted by dating concerns to spend time with him. His father found a second wife and started a new family and showed little interest in him.  The boy was smart and very interested in science.  He befriended a neighbor who kept hissing cockroaches to feed her lizards, and he would visit often and ask to hold a roach and pet it to make it hiss.  The neighbor allowed the boy to borrow one to take to school for show-and-tell, which he brought along in a plastic container.  The students were both fearful and intensely curious about this giant roach.  Except for the squeamish, everyone wanted to pet it to make it hiss.  He became the coolest kid in class.  His teacher was impressed because he told the story about hissing cockroaches, where they were from, and how they were part of a forest ecosystem.  He stopped being teased, and his teacher gave him more attention with science studies… all thanks to a lowly roach.

True story – An 11–year-old boy with ADHD found a praying mantis in his backyard and picked it up. He knew from school it wouldn’t bite, and that it caught and ate other insects.  He wandered around nearby homes looking for bugs to feed it.  When he caught something, he enjoyed watching the mantis snatch the bug from his finger and eat it with gross crunching sounds and goo…. awesome for a kid like him. He was allowed to keep the mantis in an empty aquarium. As Nature has it, it died in the Fall. His parents, however, purchased mantis eggs from a nursery to populate the yard the next summer. When they hatched, the boy spent hours amusing himself by finding and feeding the baby mantis population,and watching them grow to adulthood.  It reduced the hours he’d spend indoors on video games,and connected him with nature outdoors.

 

–Margaret

Calming room ideas to prevent tantrums, for kids with autism or other disorders

Calming room ideas to prevent tantrums, for kids with autism or other disorders

calmroom1

This article was provided by Ryan Novas on behalf of National Autism Resources.

For those with an autistic child, it is a parent’s nightmare to face a tantrum with no way to calm them down.  That is why it is important to have a calming room or area set aside for your child that helps ease distress before a tantrum starts, or to send them to in order to ease the distress. Here are three versions of a calming room you can create to help when your child is about to have a tantrum.

The HUG room

calmroom6The hug room is popular for calming any child down, especially one on the spectrum. The hug room needs to have calming items that provide a sense of security and warmth, and a cocoon-like hug.  In this room, provide a weighted blanket or snug embracing vest (in case your child won’t lay down). Both of these are like bear hugs, which can be comforting and calming for children with autism.  Another great item to have in this space is a crash pad (used by many therapists and parents in combination with a weighted blanket), or a large or stuffed animal or pillow that the child can hold on to or hug.  You want to make sure the animal or pillow does not have parts that can be ripped off and chewed on or cause damage in another way.  You’ll also want all other items to be soft and safe to throw to protect the room or others in case your child does have a full-blown tantrum.

The SOOTHING SOUNDS & SCENTS room

calmroom4One thing that can work very well for some children, especially with tantrums brought on by overstimulation, is a room with soothing sensory experiences. In this room, block or mute outside sounds–TVs, stereos, and people walking or talking near the room so it’s as quiet as possible.  Once your child is in the soothing sounds room, you’ll need to have a place for them to relax or lay down.  You can use a bed, a crash mat, or something else they can fall asleep on or even just sit on with their eyes closed.  Silence or a soft gentle background ‘hum’  or soothing sound helps, such as  from meditation CDs, music or birds or flowing water.

calmroom3You can also try products like the Twilight Turtle which has soothing sounds and even includes a light show of constellations (also perfect for the 3rd room, below).  Noise blocking earmuffs and headphones make great additions for this room if your child needs to be removed from all noises.  These also provide a kind if ‘hug.’  You can combine them with a scent or scented toy or stuffed animals to calm your child.  Think about little pillows stuffed with lavender flowers, or an air freshener they like.

The VISUALLY CALMING room

calmroom7

  • For a visually calming room, remove overly bright colors and small points like those from a static night-light that plugs into the wall.  Instead, find something like the Tranquil Turtle above or even liquid motion lamps or light projectors with calming colors and patterns. You can also try adding black out curtains on the windows to block bright sunlight–the point is to make light easy on their eyes. Darkness may help the lights do a better job.

calmroom2

The most important thing when creating a calming room is to make sure it meets the needs of your child. Include features that are most effective for him or her. Don’t forget to exclude or remove anything that is easily thrown or could hurt your child or others or cause damage to your house.

 

Addendum:  I’ve seen these other things used to calm people to prevent overstimulation or anxiety.  The first two were in a psychiatric unit for calming mental patients.

  1. A bubbling aquarium, or a digital aquarium on a computer monitor
  2. A video image of a burning log in a fireplace or the rippling surface of water
  3. A small motion toy powered by a solar cell
  4. A pendulum clock

 

Have you discovered something that works for your child?  Please share.


If you would like to get ongoing updates on the latest news and research in child & adolescent mental health, follow my Facebook Page.

Faith can help, and harm, a family’s mental health

Faith can help, and harm, a family’s mental health

When faith helps

Most of the time, people can heal and find peace and self-acceptance through faith. All the world’s great faiths, those that have lasted centuries, are kept alive for this reason. All have common themes of healing and service to others. When things go poorly, meditation and prayer, with others or in private, lead to connection and wholeness. Faith reveals that things are better, and will be better, than they seem.

When families are in crisis because of their troubled child, parents tell me they depend on faith, even parents who don’t profess a faith practice. They say it’s their only source of strength. Most families with a child who is sick, disabled, or mentally ill will go through dark times, when a parent’s world is simply too overwhelming. Most often, no answers are forthcoming, nor any rescue. The only choice is to hand over their burden to a “higher power,” God, the Buddha, Allah, the Great Spirit… This act of “handing over” is a foundation of healing in Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, and dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT).

Few things help a family more than a supportive community of believers.  There will be one person who listens to a frightened parent on the phone, and another person who takes a traumatized sibling on an outing, and another person who provides hugs and cookies. If a mentally ill child continues to decline, a good faith-based support network will stay on. The child may not thrive, but the family does, and has the strength and forbearance to handle the years’ long task of supporting their mentally ill loved one.

Science shows that faith results in better lifetime outcomes for a child

This writer typically trusts science, but in the depths of my family’s despair, only faith and the prayers of others kept me from falling apart.

There are scientists among the faithful who have asked the question: does faith really help the mentally ill? In another blog post, Spirituality and mental health, some research are summaries of research going back 36 years.  (Follow this link for the research citations.)  The answer?  Yes, faith makes a real and measurable difference in improving mental health.

More recent scientific research shows clear evidence from brain scans that meditation and prayer change brain electrical activity, from anxious or agitated to serene and grounded.  The person actually feels and behaves better.  This article has more information on this, Yoga – Safe and effective for depression and anxiety.

Like prayer, “talk therapy” or psychotherapy also shows improvement on brain scans. Imagine, just talking with someone improves the physical brain. According to the article appended below, “When God Is Part of Therapy,” many prefer therapists who respect and encourage their faith. It just makes sense.

When faith harms

This section is a personal appeal to faith communities who have unconscionably failed families and their children with mental disorders.

Faith communities depend on people, and people have biases and foibles.  Many of ‘the faithful’ hold negative beliefs about others, right or wrong.  Children who suffer, and their families, are identified as possessed, of evil character, disbelievers, victims of abuse, or cruelest:  those who are paying for their sins. Families are repeatedly told these very things today.

“Sometimes, people hide from the Bible. That is, they use the Christian holy book as an authority and excuse for biases that have nothing to do with God.”
–Leonard Pitts Jr., Miami Herald

Stigmatization from a faith community is a cruel betrayal.

A child’s inappropriate behavior is not a choice, it is a verifiable medical illness, one with a higher mortality rate than cancer:  Mental illness more deadly than cancer for teens, young adults.  Families with sick children need support; our sense of loss is devastating.

Testimonials

Mother with five children, one with bipolar disorder:

“We were members of our church since we were first married, all our daughters grew up here, but when my youngest spiraled down, I was told the sins of the father are visited on the sons. Or we weren’t praying enough. I knew they thought (Dad) had done something bad to her. We left and went church shopping until we found a pastor who understood and supported us.”

Mother of two children, one with acute pervasive development disorder:

“I wish we had a “special needs” church. We’re so afraid our kid is going to say something and we’re not going to be accepted. We haven’t gone to church for years because of this. They just turned their backs on us, it happened to another family with a deaf child. They avoid parents in pain. Deep down in my heart I believe in the Lord, but there are days when I wonder “where is God?” People call out to pray for a job, or a kid’s grades, but we wouldn’t dare ask for us, no one would get it, we’d be told we were bad parents or didn’t punish him enough.”

Mother of two children, one with schizoaffective disorder:

“When I went up to the front to light a candle and ask for a prayer for my daughter, I expected people would come up afterward and give a hug or something, just like with other families with cancer and such. But it didn’t happen. No one even looked at me. I left alone and decided never to go back.”

Some good news

FaithNet

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) has recognized the need for the mentally ill to be part of faith communities, and the negative experiences most face when they attempt to participate in a religious community. NAMI started FaithNet to encourage and equip NAMI members to engage with and share their story and NAMI resources with local faith groups, and appeal for their acceptance.

Key Ministry

Key Ministry: Welcoming Youth and Their Families at Church
Stephen Grcevich, M.D., president, Key Ministry and child & adolescent psychiatry in private practice, Chagrin Falls, Ohio

“Key Ministry believes it is not okay for youth living with mental illness and their families to face barriers to participation in worship services, educational programming and service opportunities available through local churches.”

Churches in American culture lack understanding of the causes and the needs of families impacted by mental illness, which poses a significant barrier to full inclusion.

“A study published recently by investigators at Baylor University examined the relationship between mental illness and family stressors, strengths and faith practices among nearly 5,900 adults in 24 churches representing four Protestant denominations. The presence of mental illness in a family member has a significant negative impact on both church attendance and the frequency of engagement in spiritual practices.” When asked what help the church could offer these families, they ranked “support for mental illness” 2nd out of 47 possibilities. Among unaffected families, support for mental illness ranked 42nd.

________________________________________

When God Is Part of Therapy
Tara Parker Pope, March 2011, New York Times

Faith-based therapy is growing in popularity, reports Psychology Today, as more patients look for counselors who can discuss their problems and goals from a religious frame of reference.

Studies show that people prefer counselors who share their religious beliefs and support, rather than challenge, their faith. Religious people often complain that secular therapists see their faith as a problem or a symptom, rather than as a conviction to be respected and incorporated into the therapeutic dialogue, a concern that is especially pronounced among the elderly and twenty-somethings. According to a nationwide survey by the American Association of Pastoral Counselors (AAPC), 83 percent of Americans believe their spiritual faith and religious beliefs are closely tied to their state of mental and emotional health. Three-fourths say it’s important for them to see a professional counselor who integrates their values and beliefs into the counseling process.

The problem for many patients in therapy is that many patients are far more religious than their therapists.

Nearly three-fourths of Americans say their whole approach to life is based on religion. But only 32 percent of psychiatrists, 33 percent of clinical psychologists and 46 percent of clinical social workers feel the same. The majority of traditional counselor training programs have no courses dealing with spiritual matters.

When children are hospitalized with other ailments, the family draws sympathy and support from others.  But because of mental health stigma, most families like ours don’t when our child is hospitalized.  If not blame, we are second-guessed, or as bad, met with silence or a change of subject.

Use IQ sub-scores to guide your child’s future

Use IQ sub-scores to guide your child’s future

The IQ of a child or teen does not predict their success or failure in the world, nor their chances for a meaningful life that’s full of wellbeing.  But in very practical terms, your child will need to function as an adult someday, and take care of themselves, which means getting a job and getting a life.  What’s the best job or future path?  What isn’t?  If you know how your child scored on different parts of the battery of IQ tests, you can guide them to a future that rests on their best scores, and this is especially important for young people with behavioral disorders.  Let me explain.

A person’s IQ is the average of the scores from tests for different types of intelligences, and each test can be scored from a range of 0 to ~200.  From the Wechsler IQ Scale, used most widely in schools, there are six intelligence types. (There are many other IQ tests in use today besides the Wechsler Scale.)

  • Verbal comprehension  Ex:  Measures the ability to write, work crossword puzzles, use words creatively or convincingly, tell interesting stories or funny jokes, debate an issue, explain things clearly, and use a large vocabulary.
  • Perceptual Reasoning  Ex:  Measures the ability to put puzzles together, appreciate of art or photography, use geometry, learn best with charts and pictures, draw, notice details.
  • Working Memory  Ex:  Measures the ability to remember strings of numbers or letters, lists, and subjects just observed or subjects recalled from a much earlier time.
  • Processing Speed   Ex:  Memory recall, speed of problem solving, recognition, and correlation.
  • Reading   Ex:  Measures the ability to read and understand different types of writing, to learn and draw conclusions from reading, reading speed, comprehend the meaning in written material.
  • Math Reasoning  Ex:  Ability to solve mysteries, solve logic and math problems, organize things, figure out how things work, use technology, appreciate and apply science.

Your child’s individual intelligence scores are better indications of your child’s strengths and weaknesses.  You should support interests that take advantage of where their best intelligence is, their high scores, to prepare them for schooling or a job.  On the other hand, if you know where they score low, you can arrange extra support for them before they become adults–or you can guide them away from a future choice (such as a career) where they won’t or can’t thrive.

Introduce your child to experiences they are predisposed to master.

The philosophy here is to help your troubled child use the best of what they have, and not require them to be well-rounded.  Pressuring them to do well in everything isn’t helpful for two reasons:

  1. Troubled children commonly have a wider range of low to high scores, and they aren’t or can’t be well-rounded;
  2. Your effort goes into weaknesses they struggle with, instead of strengths that should be nurtured and celebrated.  Troubled children and teens really need a good dose in self-esteem.

A hypothetical case –  Take two very different children with very different IQ scores, yet both with the same behavioral problems in school.  They act out, pick fights, hit others and damage others’ things.  Sean is a 15-year-old boy with an IQ of 83, diagnosed with ADHD and Fetal Alcohol Effect (FAE); Katy is a 10 year girl with an IQ of 122, diagnosed with PTSD and ODD.  In the graph below, Sean’s scores are in red, and Katy’s are in blue.

 Sean’s score of 83 is misleading because his overall functioning is much lower.  In fact, three of his test scores are below 75, the level designated as developmentally disabled.  His special education teachers are surprised he does so poorly in school because he seems so normal on the surface thanks to his above average verbal skills.  He has lots of friends.  He communicates clearly, he listens to others, and he likes to tell good stories. What should Sean be when he grows up?

Half of Katy’s scores are above gifted, ~130, but her below average verbal ability prevents her from mastering essential social and communication skills.  Because she’s so intelligent, people are surprised that her grades are low. The problem is her behavior in class and how it distracts from learning. But Katy’s behavior comes from an early trauma.  And with lower verbal skills, she has a harder time communicating her needs and perceiving the little social interactions that help us mature.  Katy can do anything, but what shouldn’t Katy do when she grows up?

To help people understand the implications of IQ, psychologist Dr. Arthur Jensen created a chart that he believed matched IQ scores to careers:

  • 89-100 would be employable as store clerks
  • 111-120 have the ability to become policemen and teachers
  • 121-125 should have the ability to excel as professors and managers
  • 125 and higher demonstrate skills necessary for eminent professors, executives, editors

“What is an IQ?” http://homeworktips.about.com/od/homeworkhelp/a/IQ.htm

From this chart, Sean’s IQ of 83 is too low for a store clerk, and yet Sean is able to function pleasantly and helpfully around people in structured situations.  He might do fine helping customers in the right kind of store.  He’s also good at tackling one day projects with groups of people.  Maybe landscaping or neighborhood clean-up is is meaningful to him and he thrives.

Katy could easily become the professor or executive in Dr. Jensen’s chart, yet her verbal skills might limit her to careers that don’t require nuanced interactions with people.  She might do best working semi-independently, possibly in technology, science, or engineering.  She might love a summer science camp where her intelligence would get the challenges it needs and shine.

What will your child do when he or she grows up?  You can’t make their decisions, but you can influence their choices.

“No IQ score should be considered an exact measure of intellectual ability…  It does not measure creativity, leadership, initiative, curiosity, commitment, artistic skill, musical talent, social skills, emotional well-being, or physical prowess – all components which can be included in definitions of giftedness.”
National Association of Gifted Children http://www.nagc.org/

— Margaret

Spirituality and mental health, some research

Spirituality and mental health, some research

Scientists worldwide have been studying the effect of religion and spirituality on mental health and addiction recovery in children, teens, and adults.  Below are research findings that show religion and spirituality improve adult and adolescent mental health, including recovery from mental crises and substance abuse, when the spiritual approach carries messages of love, kindness, tolerance, and moral responsibility.  But when religion had a punitive or unforgiving message to those with mental or substance abuse disorders, the results were disheartening: a worsening of psychotic symptoms; inability to sustain recovery from substance abuse; and physical abuse.

If you look at the dates of some of these studies, you’ll see that researchers have been measuring of the value of spirituality for mental health and addiction for ~30 years, and results have consistently shown statistically significant positive benefits.

Below are summaries research reports–clinical writing that can be difficult to wade through if you’re not a mental health geek, so key findings and conclusions are highlighted in brown to make it easier to scan.

–Margaret

A second article in this blog documents both positive and negative effects of parents’ experiences in a religious community, Faith can help, & harm, a family’s mental health.


God Imagery and Treatment Outcomes Examined
Currier JM, Foster JD, Abernathy AD, et al. God imagery and affective outcomes in a spiritually integrative inpatient program. [Published online ahead of print May 5, 2017]. Psychiatry Res. doi:10.1016/j.psychres.2017.05.003.

Patients’ ability to derive comfort from their religious faith and/or spirituality emerged as a salient mediating pathway between their God imagery at the start of treatment and positive affect at discharge, a recent study found. Drawing on a combination of qualitative and quantitative information with a religiously heterogeneous sample of 241 adults who completed a spiritually-integrative inpatient program over a 2-year period, researchers tested direct and indirect associations between imagery of how God views oneself, religious comforts and strains, and affective outcomes.

Findings  —  Analyses revealed that patients generally experienced reductions in negative emotion in God imagery over the course of their admissions.


When God Is Part of Therapy
Tara Parker Pope, March 2011, New York Times

Faith-based therapy is growing in popularity, reports Psychology Today, as more patients look for counselors who can discuss their problems and goals from a religious frame of reference.

Studies show that people prefer counselors who share their religious beliefs and support, rather than challenge, their faith. Religious people often complain that secular therapists see their faith as a problem or a symptom, rather than as a conviction to be respected and incorporated into the therapeutic dialogue, a concern that is especially pronounced among the elderly and twenty-somethings. According to a nationwide survey by the American Association of Pastoral Counselors (AAPC), 83 percent of Americans believe their spiritual faith and religious beliefs are closely tied to their state of mental and emotional health. Three-fourths say it’s important for them to see a professional counselor who integrates their values and beliefs into the counseling process.

The problem for many patients in therapy is that many patients are far more religious than their therapists.

Nearly three-fourths of Americans say their whole approach to life is based on religion. But only 32 percent of psychiatrists, 33 percent of clinical psychologists and 46 percent of clinical social workers feel the same. The majority of traditional counselor training programs have no courses dealing with spiritual matters.


“[Spirituality] enables neurotic conflicts typical for adolescence to be more easily overcome.”

The influence of religious moral beliefs on adolescents’ mental stability.
Pajević I, Hasanović M, Delić A., : Psychiatry Danub. 2007 Sep;19(3):173-83

University Clinical Centre Tuzla, Trnovac b.b, 75 000 Tuzla, Bosnia & Herzegovina. zikjri@bih.net.ba.
This study included 240 mentally and physically healthy male and female adolescents attending a high school, who were divided into groups equalized by gender (male and female), age (younger 15, older 18 years); school achievement (very good, average student); behaviour (excellent, average); family structure (complete family with satisfactory family relations), and level of exposure to psycho-social stress (they were not exposed to specific traumatizing events).  Subjects were assessed with regard to the level of belief in some basic ethical principles that arise from religious moral values.

Conclusions — A higher index of religious moral beliefs in adolescents enables better control of impulses, providing better mental health stability.  It enables neurotic conflicts typical for adolescence to be more easily overcome.  It also causes healthier reactions to external stimuli.  A higher index of religious moral beliefs of young people provides a healthier and more efficient mechanism of anger control and aggression control.  It enables transformation of that psychical energy into neutral energy which supports the growth and development of personality, which is expressed through socially acceptable behaviour.  In this way, it helps growth, development and socialization of the personality, leading to the improvement in mental health.


Religion, Stress, and Mental Health in Adolescence: Findings from Add Health
Nooney, J. G. 2008-10-23 from http://www.allacademic.com/meta/p106431_index.html

A growing body of multidisciplinary research documents the associations between religious involvement and mental health outcomes, yet the causal mechanisms linking them are not well understood.  Ellison and his colleagues (2001) tested the life stress paradigm linking religious involvement to adult well-being and distress.  This study looked at adolescents, a particularly understudied group in religious research. Analysis of data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health) reveals that religious effects on adolescent mental health are complex.  While religious involvement did not appear to prevent the occurrence of stressors or buffer their impact, some support was found for the hypothesis that religion facilitates coping by enhancing social and psychological resources.


Study Links Religion and Mental Health
David H. Rosmarin and Kenneth Pargament, Bowling Green State University, Ohio, (IsraelNN.com) 2008

A series of research studies – known as the JPSYCH program – reveals that traditional religious beliefs and practices are protective against anxiety and depression among Jews.  The research indicates that frequency of prayer, synagogue attendance, and religious study, and positive beliefs about the Divine are associated with markedly decreased levels of anxiety and with higher levels of happiness.  “In this day and age, there is a lot to worry about,” Rosmarin notes, “and the practice of religion may help people to maintain equanimity and perspective.”


The Once-Forgotten Factor in Psychiatry: Research Findings on Religious Commitment and Mental Health (excerpt)
David B. Larson, M.D., M.S.P.H., Susan S. Larson, M.A.T., and Harold G. Koenig, M.D., M.H.Sc., Psychiatric Times.  Vol. 17 No. 10, October 1, 2000

“The data from many of the studies conducted to date are both sufficiently robust and tantalizing to warrant continued and expanded clinical investigations.”

Treatment of Drug Abuse

  • The lack of religious/spiritual commitment stands out as a risk factor for drug abuse, according to past reviews of published studies.  Benson (1992) reviewed nearly 40 studies documenting that people with stronger religious commitment are less likely to become involved in substance abuse.
  • Gorsuch and Butler (1976) found that lack of religious commitment was a predictor of drug abuse.  The researchers wrote:  “Whenever religion is used in analysis, it predicts those who have not used an illicit drug regardless of whether the religious variable is defined in terms of membership, active participation, religious upbringing or the meaningfulness of religion as viewed by the person himself.”
  • Lorch and Hughes (1985), as cited by the National Institute for Healthcare Research (1999), surveyed almost 14,000 youths and found that the analysis of six measures of religious commitment and eight measures of substance abuse revealed religious commitment was linked with less drug abuse.  The measure of “importance of religion” was the best predictor in indicating lack of substance abuse.  The authors stated, “This implies that the controls operating here are deeply internalized values and norms rather than fear or peer pressure.”
  • Developing and drawing upon spiritual resources can also make a difference in improving drug treatment.  For instance, 45% of participants in a religious treatment program for opium addiction were still drug-free one year later, compared to only 5% of participants in a nonreligious public health service hospital treatment program-a nine-fold difference(Desmond and Maddux, 1981).
  • Confirming other studies showing reduced depression and substance abuse, a study of 1,900 female twins found significantly lower rates of major depression, smoking and alcohol abuse among those who were more religious (Kendler et al., 1997).  Since these twins had similar genetic makeup, the potential effects of nurture versus nature stood out more clearly.

“lack of religious commitment was a predictor of drug abuse”

Treatment of Alcohol Abuse

  • Religious/spiritual commitment predicts fewer problems with alcohol (Hardesty and Kirby, 1995).  People lacking a strong religious commitment are more at risk to abuse alcohol (Gartner et al., 1991).  Religious involvement tends to be low among people diagnosed for substance abuse treatment (Brizer, 1993).
  • A study of the religious lives of alcoholics found that 89% of alcoholics had lost interest in religion during their teen-age years, whereas 48% among the community control group had increased interest in religion, and 32% had remained unchanged (Larson and Wilson, 1980).
  • A relationship between religious or spiritual commitment and the non-use or moderate use of alcohol has been documented.  Amoateng and Bahr (1986) reported that, whether or not a religious tradition specifically proscribes alcohol use, those who are active in a religious group consumed substantially less alcohol than those who are not active.
  • Religion or spirituality is also often a strong force in [addiction] recovery.  Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) invokes a Higher Power to help alcoholics recover from addiction.  Those who participate in AA are more likely to remain abstinent after inpatient or outpatient treatmen t(Montgomery et al., 1995).

“…adolescents [who were] frequent church-goers with high spiritual support had the lowest scores on the Beck Depression Inventory.”

Suicide Prevention – Surging suicide rates plague the United States, especially among adolescents.  One in seven deaths among those 15 to 19 years of age results from suicide.

  • One study of 525 adolescents found that religious commitment significantly reduced risk of suicide (Stein et al., 1992).
  • A study of adolescents found that frequent church-goers with high spiritual support had the lowest scores on the Beck Depression Inventory (Wright et al., 1993).  High school students of either gender who attended church infrequently and had low spiritual support had the highest rates of depression, often at clinically significant levels.
  • How significantly might religious commitment prevent suicide?  One early large-scale study found that people who did not attend church were four times more likely to kill themselves than were frequent church-goers (Comstock and Partridge, 1972).  Stack (1983) found rates of church attendance predicted suicide rates more effectively than any other evaluated factor, including unemployment.  He proposed several ways in which religion might help prevent suicide, including enhancing self-esteem through a belief that one is loved by God and improving moral accountability, which reduces the appeal of potentially self-destructive behavior.
  • Many psychiatric inpatients indicate that spiritual/religious beliefs and practices help them to cope. Lindgren and Coursey (1995) reported 83% of psychiatric patients felt that spiritual belief had a positive impact on their illness through the comfort it provided and the feelings of being cared for and not being alone it engendered.

Potential Harmful Effects

Psychiatry still needs more research and clearer hypotheses in differentiating between the supportive use of religion/spirituality in finding hope, meaning, and a sense of being valued and loved versus harmful beliefs that may manipulate or condemn.”

  • Alcoholics often report negative experiences with religion and hold concepts of God that are punitive, rather than loving and forgiving (Gorsuch, 1993).
  • Bowman (1989).  In assessing multiple personality disorder, children in rigid religious families, whose harsh parenting practices border on abuse, harbor negative images of God.  Josephson (1993). Individual psychopathology is linked with families whose enmeshment, rigidity and emotional harshness were supported by enlisting spiritual precepts.
  • Sheehan and Kroll (1990).  Of 52 seriously mentally ill hospitalized patients diagnosed with major depression, schizophrenia, manic episode, personality disorder and anxiety disorder, almost one-fourth of [psychiatric patients] believed their sinful thoughts or acts may have contributed to the development of their illness.  Without the psychiatrist inquiring about potential religious concerns, these beliefs would remain unaddressed, potentially hindering treatment until discovered and resolved.  Collaboration with hospital chaplains or clergy may help in some of these instances of spiritual problems or distress.

Conclusion

Religious/spiritual commitment may enhance recovery from depression, serious mental or physical illness, and substance abuse; help curtail suicide; and reduce health risks.  More longitudinal research with better multidimensional measures will help further clarify the roles of these factors and how they are beneficial or harmful.

–Margaret