Category: troubled children

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.

How to help your child cope with anxiety

How to help your child cope with anxiety

anxiety2We all get anxious, but it becomes a “disorder” when it prevents a person from normal functioning. Anxiety and panic are very real, whether triggered by life in general or certain things such as phobias. Take it serious–it’s not something an extremely anxious child can “get over”.  Willpower alone does not work.

Anxiety disorders are also one of the most common psychiatric conditions in children and adolescents, but often go undetected and untreated. Early, effective treatment can reduce the negative impacts on academic and social functioning.

Excessive worry or anxiety about multiple issues, which lingers six months or more, can indicate an anxiety disorder. 

anxiety3Anxiety is often expressed in physical symptoms:

  • Anxious mood: excessive worry, anticipating the worst
  • Tension: startles or cries easily, restlessness, trembling
  • Phobias: fear of the dark, fear of strangers, fear of being alone, fear of animals, etc.
  • Insomnia: difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, nightmares
  • Intellectual difficulties: poor concentration, memory impairment
  • Depression: decreased interest in activities, inability to feel happy
  • Somatic complaints (muscular): muscle aches or pains, teeth grinding
  • Somatic complaints (sensory): ringing in the ears, blurred vision
  • Cardiovascular symptoms: tachycardia, palpitations, chest pain, feeling faint
  • Respiratory symptoms: chest pressure, choking sensation, shortness of breath
  • Gastrointestinal symptoms: difficulty swallowing, nausea or vomiting, constipation, weight loss, abdominal fullness
  • Genitourinary symptoms: frequent or urgent urination, painful menstruation
  • Autonomic symptoms: dry mouth, flushing, pallor, sweating
  • Physical behavior: fidgeting, tremors, pacing
  • Other: risk of abusing alcohol in adolescence, cutting and other self-injury (not suicidal)

Cutting

Physical pain reduces psychological pain by shocking a person’s attention into the here-and-now.  Like a glass of water thrown into someone’s face when they are upset, the shock overrides inner turmoil, and releases adrenalin and endorphins.  It’s stimulating, even energizing.  According to statistics from research, cutting becomes addictive after about 14 episodes.

anxiety6True story: Laurel, age 14, cut herself regularly on her fingers, preferring to cut under her fingernails.  She hid the cuts and scabs with nail polish.  Her father eventually learned about this and asked her why: “I feel more calm because the sting feels good and distracts me.” A therapist recommended that Laurel draw “cuts” on herself with a red pen instead of a knife, and also wear a rubber band on her wrist or fingers and snap it when she wanted to feel a sting.

It is common for cutters to hide their scars or scabs under clothing if they think you will try to stop them, or they will cut in a place you won’t see unless they are unclothed.  They may also make an excuse about an injury if you do see visible cuts.  You can look for unexplained blood on clothing.  Don’t be afraid to ask if they are cutting; many young people have freely ‘confessed’ when asked.

Treatment for anxiety

anxiety5anxiety4A child or teen will often be diagnosed with more than one type of anxiety disorder, in addition to a psychiatric disorder–30% of all anxiety cases include a diagnosis of depression and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), in combination with antidepressant medications “have consistently shown efficacy for anxiety disorders in children and adolescents.” Many anti-anxiety medications on the market are addictive, so a doctor or psychiatrist will be very cautious about prescribing them except on an as-needed basis. Treatment must also include parent involvement, especially if the parents are also anxious.

Cutting relieves psychological pain because it stimulates endorphins and adrenalin

Instead of cutting, allow your child to experience pain that is harmless, for example:  hold ice tightly in their hand as long as they can, taste vinegar or a hot pepper.  These may sound strange, but these are effective techniques used in Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) to help an anxious person tolerate stress.  You find out more about CBT and DBT here:  Therapy types explained – DBT, CBT, CPS, and others

How you can help

  • Validate or affirm your child’s feelings. If he or she is worried, fearful, upset, or distraught, don’t insist they should not have their feelings, regardless of the reason. You can let your child know that feelings are normal and it’s OK to have a little fear at times.
  • Reduce their dependence on you. Help them learn to cope by offering less reassurance, which can undermine their commitment and skills for coping. Messages that “everything will turn out OK” teaches them that you will help them through all fears, but they need to learn that they can get through fear on their own.
  • Avoid helping too much. If you try to protect your child from all harm, it prevents them from becoming independent and keeps them socially immature; traits they need to learn in their teens. Learning and maturing require that kids handle challenges on their own by confronting small anxiety hurdles along the way.
  • Model how to cope*. A parent’s anxiety greatly aggravates their child’s anxiety.  If you are anxious, tell your child how you plan to cope with it. For example, “Sometimes I feel nervous when I have to climb a ladder, but I just need to take a deep breath, be careful, and do it. If I get too nervous, I can always climb back down, and try it again later.”

* Charles H. Elliott, Ph.D. “Anxiety: Three Messages to Avoid Giving Kids”

Anti-anxiety diet

This article has a shopping list of foods and minerals that specifically target brin functions to increase calmness and reduce anxiety.  “Brain Food for Troubled Kids.

anxiety1Escape plans

If your child is in a situation where they are experiencing severe distress, always have an escape plan or an “out” so your child can leave the situation as quickly as possible. Prepare yourself ahead of time so you won’t feel inconvenienced when it happens, and accept this as part of their treatment needs.

  • This reduces anticipatory anxiety when they are exposed to stress, and teaches them how they can manage themselves on their own. This is also a teachable moment when you reinforce self-calming skills.
  • This builds trust in you and a willingness to listen to your guidance. (When I did this consistently, my child grew more comfortable in similar stressful situations.)


Don’t forget to take care of YOU

 

If you’ve found ways to reduce your child’s anxiety, share them in the Comments section for others to consider.

–Margaret

Guns and Mental Illness: the Debate from a Parent’s Perspective

Guns and Mental Illness: the Debate from a Parent’s Perspective

Shortly after the tragic massacre of children in Connecticut, I wrote the following Letter to the Editor to the Oregonian, Portland’s main newspaper:

normal-murderer“Tragic shootings always raise the question, “Why?”, and the response often jumps to guns. Yet guns are tangential to the problem. Those of us with a mentally ill person in our families can answer “why.” We’ve witnessed the behaviors leading to a mental health crisis. There are always signs, but many don’t interpret or take them seriously until it’s too late.

“If you have a loved one at risk of harming themselves or others, but aren’t sure if it’s serious or real, trust your gut. Look for behavior changes that are abrupt or steadily worsen over time. Listen for statements that seem out of character Pay attention to significant overreactions to events or ideas. Never be afraid to ask directly, “Are you OK?” Don’t hesitate to seek help from mental health advocacy or support groups. Whatever the cause, mental illness is treatable; there is hope, and people who can help.”

gun in knotsA couple of weeks later, a reporter from the Oregonian contacted me to help with a story on mental illness in children.  She said she wanted this important longstanding issue brought back into the national discussion.

Perhaps we have finally reached a turning point?

 

gun deaths per 100,000

Sandra Spencer, Executive Director for the National Federation of Families for Children’s Mental Health, met at the White House with Vice President Biden’s task force on gun control to ensure that the issue goes beyond just gun control.  The following is an excerpt:

“We must deal with the real issue that children do have mental health challenges and parents don’t have support or access to services without fear of losing their children to public scrutiny, bullying, discrimination and even institutionalization. …These children, youth, and families need to know where to go, which treatment is best, and how to access community support.

“The isolation parents feel because of their children’s behavior, due to mental illness, keeps them from reaching out or even knowing who to trust for help.  There should be national outrage at the number of young people who die each year by suicide and drug abuse, or the number of children with a mental health diagnosis that go untreated, and the lengths parents go to just trying to keep their children safe and out of trouble.  This has to change in our nation before we can adequately address the need for an improved children’s mental health care system”

brain-green backgroundThe issue of gun control is important to work through, but not at the expense of mental health and the millions who continue to struggle—the families and their loved ones.  Not again.

 

Your comments are strongly encouraged.  What do other parents think?

–Margaret

Is my teen ‘normal’ crazy or seriously troubled?

Is my teen ‘normal’ crazy or seriously troubled?

girl in rear view mirrorA high percentage of teenagers go through a rebellious or ‘crazy’ phase that is normal for their age and brain development. The difference between normal teen-crazy and truly troubled behavior is when the teenager falls behind his or her peers in critical areas.  At a bare minimum, a normal teen will be able to do the following:

  • Attend school and do most school work if they want to;
  • Have and keep a friend or friends their own age who also attend school;
  • Develop a maturity level roughly the same as his or her peers;
  • Exercise self-control when he or she wants to;
  • Demonstrate basic survival instincts and avoid doing serious harm to themselves, others, or property.
  • Enjoy activities that interest them.

boy in baseball capIt is normal for many teens to be inconsistent, irrational, insensitive to others, self-centered, and childish.  Screaming or swearing is normal–regard this the same as a toddler temper tantrum.  Outlandish imagination and ideas are normal in the adolescent phase too. These are behaviors that crazy teens grow out of unless something else is holding them back.

This is your challenge:  How do you tell the difference?  Troubled teens with mental disorders have the same challenging behaviors as ‘normal’ crazy teens… How do you know if they need serious mental health treatment?  Look for pervasive patterns of social and behavioral problems that stand out against their peers, patterns which persist or occur in different settings.  The patterns repeat themselves and are increasingly worse.  You suspect your troubled teen is slipping behind and won’t grow out of it.

screaming boySigns of abnormal behavior

A sudden change in behavior.

  • An abrupt change in friends and interests, and loss of interest in things your teenager used to enjoy.  This might indicate the onset of a serious mental illness or drug use or both.
  • Unusual ideas, or obsessive beliefs, or unrealistic plans, see:  “Unsettling: what psychosis looks like in children and young people.”
  • Others think there is something abnormal about your child.  (e.g., your child’s friend comes forward, their teacher calls, other parents keep their children from your child, or someone checks to see if you’re aware of the nature of his or her behaviors).


Unsafe behaviors
 (“Unsafe” means there’s a danger of harm to themselves or others, property loss or damage, running away, seeking experiences with significant risk (or easily lured into them), abusing substances, and physical or emotional abuse of others.)

  • If a troubled teenager does something unsafe to themselves or others, it is not an accident, but something impulsive, intentional, and planned.
  • They have a history of intentional unsafe activities.
  • They have or seek the means to do unsafe activities.
  • They talk about or threaten unsafe behavior.


How psychologists measure the severity of a child’s behavior 

“Normal” is defined with textual descriptions of behaviors, and these are placed on a spectrum from normal to abnormal (or “severe emotional disturbance” – SED).  Below are a few examples of a range of behaviors in different settings.  These descriptions are generalizations and should not be used to predict your child’s treatment needs, but they do offer insight into severity and the need for mental health treatment.

School behaviors

Not serious – This child has occasional problems with a teacher or classmate that are eventually worked out, and usually don’t happen again.

Mildly serious – This child often disobeys school rules but doesn’t harm anyone or property.  Compared to their classmates, they are troublesome or concerning, but not unusually badly behaved. They are intelligent, but don’t work hard enough or focus enough to have better grades. They could use help from a school counselor, teachers, and possibly a therapist for themselves or the family.

Serious – This child disobeys rules repeatedly, or skips school, or is known to disobey rules outside of school.  They stand out in the crowd as having chronic behavior problems compared to other students and their grades are poor even if they’re very intelligent.  This child needs mental health or substance abuse treatment.

Very serious – This child cannot be in school or they are dangerous in school.  They cannot follow rules or function, even in a special classroom, or they may threaten or hurt others or damage property.  It is feared they will have a difficult future, perhaps ending up in jail or having lifetime problems.  If they cooperate, this child requires intensive mental health and or substance abuse treatment.

Home behaviors

boy looking right

Not serious – This child is well-behaved most of the time but has occasional problems, which are usually worked out.

Mildly serious – This child has to be watched and reminded often, and needs pushing to follow rules or do chores or homework.  They don’t seem to learn their lessons and are endlessly frustrating.  They can be defiant or manipulative, but their actions aren’t serious enough to merit intensive treatment, though a school counselor or private counselor would be very beneficial.

Serious – This child cannot follow rules, even reasonable ones.  They can’t explain or take no responsibility for their behavior, which can include damage to the home or property, or harm to themselves or others.  They need mental health treatment or substance abuse treatment.

Very serious – The stress caused by this child means the family cannot manage normally at home even if they work together.  Running away, damaging property, threats of suicide or violence to others, and other behaviors require daily sacrifices from all.  Police are commonly called.  This child needs intense psychiatric treatment and/or substance abuse treatment, and likely residential treatment.

Relationship behaviors

somber boyNot serious – The child has and keeps friends their own age, and has healthy friendships with people of different ages, such as with a grandparent or younger neighbor.

Mildly serious – This child may seem extra immature.  They will argue, tease, bully or harass others, and most schoolmates avoid them. They are quick to have temper tantrums and childish responses to stress that always require extra attention from parents and caregivers.

Serious – The child has no friends their age, or risky friends, and can be manipulative or threatening. They can have violent tendencies, poor judgment, and take dangerous risks with themselves and others.  They don’t care about others’ feelings, or may readily harm others physically or emotionally.  This child needs therapy and psychiatric mental health treatment or substance abuse treatment.

Very serious – The child’s behavior is so aggressive verbally or physically that they are almost always overwhelming to be around.  The behaviors are repeated and deliberate, and can lead to verbal or physical violence against others or themselves.  This child needs intensive psychiatric and/or substance abuse treatment.

Pay attention to your gut feelings.

If you’ve been searching for answers and selected this article to read, your suspicions are probably true.  Most parents have good intuition about their child.  If you’re looking for ways to “fix” or change your child, they’re aren’t any easy answers nor medications or therapies which do this.  Treatment means multiple life changes in addition to medication and therapy, and these can include help for insomnia, a change in diet, treatment for digestive system problems, and household changes to reduce stress.

Mental illness is serious and recovery is a long slow process.  It is  understandable if you want them to recover quickly–your stress can be intolerable.  Avoid pushing for recovery because it will only stress your child and lead you to disappointment.  Instead, cooperate with professionals (teachers, treatment providers), and prepare yourself for a parenting marathon.  What’s the best way to prepare?  Work hard on your own mental health and wellbeing.  This advice and wisdom from other parents may help you face this daunting task.

boy in plaid shirtEarly treatment, while your troubled teenager is young, can prevent a lifetime of problems.  Find a professional who will take time to get to know your child and you and the situation, and who will listen to what you have to say–a teacher, doctor, therapist, psychiatrist or other mental health practitioner.

–Margaret

Your comments are encouraged.  Your story helps others who read this article.


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

Find The Humor in Your Crazy Child

Find The Humor in Your Crazy Child

Note of caution: it’s never appropriate to make fun of a child.  The purpose of this article is to help a parents’ ease stress by finding humor in their situation, private humor–never to be shared with the child or anyone else who will share it with the child.

I don’t suffer from insanity, I enjoy every minute of it.

Things can only go downhill so far until you lose it.  Troubles build, going from bad to horrible, and then your child says something so bizarre or silly, and even though it may be politically incorrect, and even though it may seem sick or hurtful or embarrassing, there is absolutely nothing left to do but laugh (not in front of the child).

“That boy gave me so much trouble, then one day he said to me, “Mom, why is it always about you?” !
–Mother of an 18-year-old son with mild schizophrenia

“Normal,” a setting on a washing machine.

For parents like you, humor is necessary, even “gallows humor.”  Laughter is a legitimate strategy for relieving stress, and brain scans prove that laughter reduces stress signals.  An emergency room nurse once told me that ER staff joke among themselves about patients in order to help them cope with the intensity of their job. They talk about some patients as “too stupid to live,” or when a motorcycle accident victim is brought in the door (who wasn’t wearing a helmet), they refer to them as “organ donors.”  With each other, some police use the term “knucklehead” instead of “person.”  A sex-offender therapist told me her team tells sex-offender jokes!

“… as high as 94 percent of people deem lightheartedness as a necessary factor in dealing with difficulties associated with stressful life events.”
–David Rosen, Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Science, Texas A & M University

We child-proofed our home, but they still got in.

You have permission to laugh at all the crazy, zany, exasperating, nonsensical, and nutball things your child does or says, just never in their presence… or in anyone’s presence who doesn’t understand. It doesn’t mean you don’t love or care your child, but humor really helps your own mental health. In the support groups I facilitate, a parent will occasionally share a funny story about their troubled child and the room roars with laughter.

True story – A 15-year-old girl had professed suicidal thoughts for so long that no one could remember a time when tragedy wasn’t looming. They had locked up every potentially dangerous item, but the terrified parents were never certain they could keep her safe from herself.  Removing the knives and rope was obvious.  But household cleaners?  What weapon of self-harm would be next? Daily life became a quest to guess what else she could use to kill herself, then to hide it.  But her mother realized one day that her picky daughter would never ingest chemicals; they tasted too bad.

You can’t scare me, I have teenagers!

True story – At health class in high school, students saw a film about emotional trauma.  Upon returning home, a 14-year-old son exploded with fury, berated his mother, then charged off to his room and slammed the door, once, twice, three times.  The mother was accustomed to this behavior and went to his room and attempted to calm him down.  He screamed, “I finally found out why I’m having so many problems!  I learned in health class that I am a “feral child” because you abandoned me when I was a baby!”

True story – The 20-year-old schizophrenic son angrily obsessed that his mother spoke with his school counselor when he was 11.  He railed that this invasion of privacy was wrong, immoral, hurtful, illegal, unethical, and stupid, and every other sin he could think of. Mom had long learned to just let him vent, but one day she became exasperated and said, “That was nine years ago! I apologized a hundred times. What more do you want?” The son stopped for a moment, confused, and said, “I don’t believe you. Did you erase my memory again?”

True story – The 16-year-old daughter had ADHD and bipolar disorder. She had grandiose plans to become a famous person and lead an “epic” life.  She was immensely proud of having an ‘exciting’ disorder that gave her ‘permission’ to be crazy.  Once she made an unsuccessful attempt to lose weight, explaining, “I tried anorexia but didn’t have the discipline.”

The main purpose of holding children’s parties is to remind yourself that there are children more awful than your own… or maybe not.

True story – The mother of a violent 10-year-old daughter said “I just bought a gallon of spackle on sale, which is great.  Spackle is my friend!”  Another mother with a violent 16-year-old son agreed.  She said she’d become skilled at repairing and texturing dry wall after all the damage he’d done.  Both moms brainstormed starting a company to repair homes battered by troubled children. “It would help the parents, and we could offer support too… and not judge!”

True story – Several parents at a support group were sharing their frustration from hearing friends talk proudly about their wonderful children, and the fun things they did together.  Each parent had similar experiences, and each felt embarrassed, ashamed, left out.  One mom finally blurted, “Those stupid happy families, I hate them!”

Do you have a funny story or quote to share about your child?  Please add it in the comments section–you’ll lift another parent’s day.

 

–Margaret

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.

ARE YOU OVERREACTING?

ARE YOU OVERREACTING?

Your child’s incessant problems and scares can literally give you symptoms of PTSD and anxiety disorder that you can’t control.

Like many parents, you might go to extremes to control situations so they won’t get out of hand. You don’t intend overreacting, but so much frustration has built up that any little irritation sets you off like rocket.  You’re battling to make things stop now.

Overreactions are emergency alarms without the emergency.

You can’t see it coming, but then it happens.  In an instant you are on an unstoppable mission to fix, contain, punish, or halt anything that upsets your sense of well-being, imagined or not. Overreacting is a sure sign of stress and that you need a break!  Overreactions may also come from the anger of losing the day you planned, or the life you planned and came to expect.

Dad, project strength on the outside, even when you don’t feel it on the inside. Relieve your tension later, away from the family or co-workers, by doing something physical, for example.

If you are overreacting to gain control, you are actually losing control.  Your parenting choices need considered, thoughtful decisions instead of an automatic 911 call. When your blood boils, you’re not aware how your behavior creates a toxic environment around you and the rest of your family… nor how it worsens a troubled kid’s behavior.

  • Do you worry even when things are fine?  Do you find things to worry about that aren’t problems?
  • Are you so stressed and traumatized that you just can’t stand it anymore and want the behavior to stop immediately, yesterday?
  • Is every little minor thing a reason to pull out the heavy artillery?
  • Do you overwhelm difficult situations with your own anxieties or explosions?

It’s common for parents with really difficult kids to get stuck this way, so forgive yourself if you overreact, and stop and look at what this does to your relationships and interactions with your troubled child.

  • Do you stop eating, or start drinking, when your stress is just an overreaction to a situation you’ve already handled?
  • If you’ll do anything to make your child stop a challenging behavior, might you go too far with little things? Will you call the police because they slammed the door?
  • When others hear you constantly complaining, might they consider that the problem is you?
  • Do you mirror your child’s bad behavior to show them what it looks like? Are they interpreting this the way you hope, or are you lowering yourself?
Mom, you know this helps no one. You have every reason to “lose it” but find a safer way to relieve tension. Get away occasionally, or distract your worries with friends or an activity you enjoy.

Overreactions sabotage opportunities for improvement. They terrify everyone , and your family starts to hide things from you, or downplay things, just so you won’t overreact or worry yourself to death. When family members feel a need to keep secrets, the isolation feeds your worry. Members will smooth over problems or distract you with lightness to counterbalance your fearful or explosive state of mind. Now you are less in control and receive less of the support you need for your own well-being.

If you feel paralyzed by worry or lash out as a way of coping, you are disabling yourself stress and/or depression. Before you completely lose control and your self-respect and parental authority, take care of yourself and get help for both your physical and emotional exhaustion. Check in with others and ask them if you are thinking clearly or realistically.

You must be emotionally centered and healthy or you will never be able to help your child become healthy.

Remember, your child and family need you to be 100% together.  Let some things go for the greater peace.  Center yourself so you can notice when your child is doing well and offer praise.  When centered, you are flexible, patient, compassionate, and forgiving.   This draws people towards you, to look after you and care for you.  Go ahead, aim for sainthood.  Just starting down that path would relieve everyone else’s stress over you.

–Margaret