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The Child Mind BlogBrainstorm

  • Kurt Vonnegut on Mindfulness
    May 30, 2014 Jessica Kashiwabara

    Mindfulness seems to be on everyone's minds these days. The best example we've seen in a long time comes from the late, great Kurt Vonnegut, as featured in the new anthology of his commencement speeches, "If This Isn't Nice, What Is?: Advice for the Young". Vonnegut writes about how happiness comes from the quiet moments that we don't often appreciate, and that "it's a terrible waste to be happy and not notice it." Mindfulness is all about being present in those moments, slowing down and enjoying what you have right now. Vonnegut summarizes this perfectly speaking about advice he got from an uncle:

    "My Uncle Alex Vonnegut, an insurance salesman who lived at 5033 North Pennsylvania, taught me something very important. He said that when things are going really well we should be sure to notice it. He was talking about very simple occasions, not great victories. Maybe drinking lemonade under a shade tree, or listening to music coming from a concert hall while standing in the dark outside, or, dare I say, after a kiss. He told me that it was important at such times to say out loud, "If this isn't nice, what is?"

    If that isn't a great mantra, what is?

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  • Tennis Star Taylor Townsend Brings Body Positivity to Grand Slam
    May 30, 2014 Beth Arky

    Teen tennis sensation Taylor Townsend may have lost in the third round of the French Open today, but she's still a winner in our book.

    Townsend, 18, got much-deserved attention for her stunning Grand Slam debut Wednesday. The 205th-ranked wild card upset No. 20 seed Alize Cornet of France, making her the youngest American to reach the third round since 2003. She also put those who have complained in the past about her weight in their place. 

    "Sky's the limit," a jubilant Townsend said after doing her victory dance.

    It's that kind of attitude that helped her rise above her problems in 2012, when she became embroiled in controversy over what the United States Tennis Association termed her  "physical condition"—in other words, her weight. Despite the fact that the lefty won the Australian Open juniors at 15, the USTA tried to stop her from competing at the U.S. Open, saying it would not restore its funding until the then-top-ranked junior in the world lost weight, forcing her mother, Sheila, to cover travel expenses.

    At the time, Serena Williams, who has also been criticized for her weight, said, "For a female, particularly, in the United States, in particular, and African-American, to have to deal with that is unnecessary. Women athletes come in all different sizes and shapes and colors and everything. I think you can see that more than anywhere on the tennis tour."

    Instead of giving up, Townsend gave up on her USTA coaches, partnering with Zina Garrison, a former Wimbledon runner-up, and Kamau Murray, a tennis coach she has known since she was 6.  Garrison said the experience only made the teen stronger: "The biggest thing was just getting her to understand that she's fine. Everybody doesn't have the same shape of our bodies. She's very clear on that now."

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  • Brandon and Michi Marshall Speak Out Loud for Children's Behavioral Healthcare
    May 27, 2014 Harry Kimball

    The final Speak Up for Kids "road trip" event was held in Chicago last Wednesday, with an introduction by some very special guests. Bears' wide receiver Brandon Marshall and his wife Michi, who have just pledged $1 million to the mental health community from their Brandon Marshall Foundation, opened up the panel discussion on integrated mental and physical healthcare with equal parts humility and inspiration.

    "I can't tell you about the strengths and weaknesses of integrated care," Marshall joked. "I'm not a professional. But what I am is a patient. So I can give you my story." He received a diagnosis of borderline personality disorder (BPD) in 2010, but the emotional and behavioral problems were there long before. "My life was a living hell."

    Standing beside his wife, Marshall described just the sort of distressed interpersonal relations that are such an insidious part of BPD. "We had a dream home and I sat in a darkened room for days. When I walked out my front door I had to have a hoodie on because I didn't want to talk to anybody. My wife is beautiful, but I couldn't tell her I loved her, I couldn't connect with those emotions."

    BPD is associated with suicidal thoughts, and Marshall acknowledged this when he said, "Now I understand why famous people, celebrities, millionaires sometimes take their lives. We grow up sometimes thinking that if we have security, if we make a million dollars, we'll be happy, but there's more than that."

    Marshall has described the treatment program at Harvard's McLean Hospital that enabled him to take back his life. "It's like a light bulb's been turned on in my dark room," he told the Sun Sentinel at the time. (The state-of-the-art treatment for BPD is called dialectical behavior therapy, and last week a very accomplished DBT clinician, Dr. Alec Miller, described the therapy for us.  Here's a video.)

    The Marshalls' dream for kids acknowledges that there area a lot, like Brandon, who come from very chaotic homes, who act out in school because they need help. "We would love to see every school, not just in Chicago, but in the nation and possibly the world, have onsite behavioral healthcare services that not only treat the children but also the families," he pledged. "That's the root of our issues." When we address the problems of our children, "we're not dealing with the surface, we're not dealing with the shell."

    Introducing CMI president Dr. Harold Koplewicz, and perhaps addressing other clinicians in the room, Marshall noted that "people like you really save guys like myself." But looking at the Marshalls it was clear that their strength and resolve has the potential to create a movement that will save many more kids, by making their needs visible, and fighting the stigma that keeps so many of them from getting care. We're thrilled to be on their team.

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  • I Speak Up Because I Know I'm Not Alone!
    May 27, 2014 Natasha Lerner

    Hey. I want to say that people should speak up about mental health because I want them to. I know that sounds selfish but hear me out.

    When I was in the worst parts of my anxiety I was convinced I was the only one who felt this way. I thought I was insane. I finally had the courage to tell a friend that I saw a therapist when I was in fifth grade and she laughed and asked if I was going to be sent to the loony bin. I was so upset I never wanted to go back. This girl that I had told was supposed to be my best friend and if she laughed then I knew something was wrong with me.

    Now that I've surrounded myself with friends I trust, and who are supportive, I realize how that girl who laughed at me was wrong. I'm glad to tell people about the issues I've had and have. I want them to know that it happened to me and that I turned out fine enough.

    I also found out that some of my idols have had anxiety: David Bowie, Alanis Morissette, Aretha Franklin, Courtney Love, Winona Ryder and so many more. You can tell by the list of people I admire, I'm into art and music (mostly music).

    There are so many people who suffer from mental health issues but they don't all say they do, which is why we should speak up. I want you to speak up. Other kids with problems want you to speak up.

    I know it sounds a little cheesy, but trust me it makes people feel like they aren't alone.

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  • Elliot Rodger and the Santa Barbara Shootings
    May 26, 2014 Harold S. Koplewicz, MD

    On Friday night in California, 22-year-old Elliot Rodger used knives and handguns to take the lives of 6 college students, and then his own. The question of why has been followed quickly by these: "How could we have stopped this? Would better gun control laws have helped? Was he mentally ill?"

    News reports, and Rodger's own "manifesto," suggest that he was receiving mental health treatment, although his diagnosis if any remains unclear. His parents were alerted by alarming social media posts and a message from Rodger's therapist. As many have noted, he bought the firearms used in the attacks legally according to California law.

    I do not know exactly what Rodger was struggling with, but it is clear that he was a profoundly ill young man. And I hesitate to give credence to his writing, titled "My Twisted World: The Story of Elliot Rodger," which runs to more than a hundred pages and would never have been read if he had not done such a terrible thing. But his deep jealousy, feelings of inferiority, and hatred of women shine through any artifice.

    I'd like instead to focus on something that was put accurately if limitedly by the Santa Barbara sheriff investigating the spree killing. "I think that he was able to fly under the radar, so to speak, in terms of his likelihood or propensity to hurt anyone else," he told the New York Times. It seems as though Rodger was a "flying under the radar" in many other respects, including his profound inability to engage socially with his peers, and the angry frustration this caused for years leading up to his time in Santa Barbara and his unspeakable acts.

    Elliot Rodger appears to have experienced a tough, even brutal social adolescence, by his telling. His home life was difficult and disjointed; his needs for peer approval were not met, despite his striving. However, unlike the untold number of other young people who encounter these setbacks, he developed a horrifying all-or-nothing solution.

    These young people must not be ignored—we need to be better educated as a society to see signs of real distress and move to intervene. In his manifesto, Rodger suggests that his "Day of Retribution" need not have happened if women his age had taken an interest in him. I say it could, possibly, have been avoided if the community around him had the knowledge and tools to be more proactive.

    By way of example, in hindsight the sheriff regretted that officers called to Rodger's apartment in April hadn't made a more thorough investigation. But we can all be more attentive, caring, and willing to help now, before it ever gets to that point.

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  • Students Try Speaking Up, but Their School Won't Let Them
    May 22, 2014 Caroline Miller

    Late last year two Michigan high school students found out, accidentally, that they had both experienced depression. Neither had been open about their struggles, even with their closest friends. They found it was a big relief to talk about their feelings, and the antidepressants they were both taking.

    Since they both worked on the school newspaper, they decided to do a special issue on mental illness in teenagers. They interviewed high school students who shared stories of depression, eating disorders, prescription abuse, insomnia and anxiety. The kids all agreed to use their real names, and their parents signed releases.

    Then the school refused to let them publish these stories. The students, Madeline Halpert and Eva Rosenfeld, express their frustration in an op ed piece in the New York Times. They're respectful towards the administrators who felt they needed to protect students from doing something that might make them targets of bullying. Still, the writers note, by doing so they reinforced the very stigma that encourages bullies.

    I'm impressed by both their personal courage and their journalistic chops. Their reasons for arguing that kids should come out, so to speak, about their struggles with mental illness are especially articulate:

    The feeling of being alone is closely linked to depression. This can be exacerbated if there is no one to reach out to. Though there are professionals to talk to, we feel it doesn't compare to sharing your experiences with a peer who has faced similar struggles. And, most important to us, no one afflicted with a mental illness should have to believe that it's something he should feel obliged to hide in the first place.

    I hope their piece causes some serious soul-searching among those who still think mental illness is something we should be ashamed to talk about.

    By the way, a great example of a high school student speaking up in a very articulate and helpful way about his experience with OCD is this piece by Ben Shapiro in Psychology Today.

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  • Pamela Anderson Talks About Childhood Sexual Abuse
    May 19, 2014 Rachel Ehmke

    On Friday Pamela Anderson told an audience at Cannes that she is a survivor of childhood sexual abuse several times over. She was speaking at the launch of her new animal rights charity, The Pamela Anderson Foundation, and she poignantly said that part of the reason she has always felt a strong affinity for animals is because she felt like they saved her when she was suffering.

    Anderson said she was first molested by a female babysitter from the ages of 6-10, then raped when she was 12 by the much-older brother of a friend's boyfriend, and then gang raped by her first boyfriend and six of his friends in the ninth grade. "Needless to say, I had a hard time trusting humans," she said. "I just wanted off this earth."

    Throughout it all she remained silent because she didn't want to cause trouble. Her father was an alcoholic who wasn't always around, and her mother had two waitressing jobs. "My mom was always crying," she said. "I couldn't bear to give her any more disruptive information."

    Anderson is the kind of woman who was always going to stand out—she was first "discovered" on the Jumbotron at a football game—but her warmth and eager desire to use her celebrity to help others make her stand out even more. She's been an animal rights activist throughout her career, and put a face to hepatitis C when she became infected. After she wrote a column about having the disease for Jane, the magazine's editor, Jane Pratt, told Larry King that one girl wrote in to say that she had hepatitis C too, and she was grateful when Anderson came out "because I felt like no one wanted to touch me, and I know people want to touch Pam Anderson."

    By sharing her history of sexual abuse at the launch of her own foundation, Anderson is once again showing people that there is hope, and success, after even the hardest experiences.

    Learn from another survivor about the signs of sexual abuse in children and adolescents.

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  • Brandon Marshall Pledges $1 Million for Mental Health
    May 19, 2014 Caroline Miller

    Brandon Marshall made our day, to say the least. The Chicago Bears wide receiver signed a three-year, $30 million extension to his contract live on "The View" this morning—and he announced that he's pledging $1 million to the "mental health community."

    Brandon Marshall

    Marshall has been an amazing mental health advocate ever since he was diagnosed in 2011 with borderline personality disorder. Before his diagnosis, he had a history of problems off the field—emotional outbursts in public and domestic altercations with his wife Michi. He underwent three months of treatment at McLean Hospital, and Brandon and Michi started a foundation which aims, in their words, "to end the stigma attached to mental illness, advocate for unprecedented awareness, connect those suffering to resources, and paint the world lime green."  

    Lime green, we note, signifies mental health awareness, and Marshall, who earned himself a $10,500 fine from the NFL last fall for wearing green cleats during a game, was wearing a smart green pocket square on "The View" today.

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  • Yankee Fans Speak Up
    May 17, 2014 Carmen Wong Ulrich

    My 7-year-old daughter, Bianca Luz, let out a holler of joy (and a feisty dance number) before I could confirm with a wink, "So ... you're sure you're happy to work with the Yankees?" 

    What Bianca didn't know was that while she was dancing around, I had let out an internal, "Whew." Initially I had had a slight case of nerves as I prepared to tell her that she had been chosen by the Child Mind Institute to appear in a video PSA with her favorite baseball team. I had all confidence—as did her therapist, Dr. Jill Emanuele, who recommended her—that she was a natural in front of the camera. But I was mildly concerned about some of the issues that had brought us originally to Child Mind, over a year ago. Thankfully, I need not have been worried.  

    When this Manhattan-born mother-daughter team ended up on the field, in glorious weather, Bianca was more than ready. She'd been practicing her lines—and everyone else's as well-for two days, pleading to "run" script even while she was in the tub and on the way to school. It was such a joy to see her pride in being chosen to represent all children who need help to better their mental health.

    And then of course, there was the excitement of meeting the team. David Robertson was the first up and he charmed Bianca easily into what was to be the start of several giant smiles on her face that day. A fellow left-hander, Bianca took notes as she watched CC Sabathia warm up before he grinned for the cameras. Manager Joe Girardi also joined us, and of course, Derek Jeter, who introduced himself like a new friend, asking the kids questions, even shielding them from the sun between takes.

    What we all shared that amazing day is the belief that kids need help when it comes to their mental health and that as adults and parents, we must not only give them that help but spread the word to help others. We proudly speak up for kids. Will you?

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  • Smart Girls on Anxiety
    May 15, 2014 Caroline Miller

    We're fans of Amy Poehler's Smart Girls, and last night teamed up with them for a conversation about teenagers and anxiety.  Several smart girls who have first-hand experience with anxiety were on hand, and a couple of things they said really jumped out at me.

    First, how important your friends are when you're miserable with anxiety. Natasha Lerner, at 15-year-old who's struggled with PTSD and anxiety after witnessing a suicide, talked about how devastating it was for her to have a good friend laugh when she told her she was seeing a therapist.

    MTV comedian Shaylah Evans said she had the same experience with the panic attacks that started when she was quite young. "There's not a lot of sympathy for people with panic attacks," Shayla said. "People tell you you're just being a baby, you should just get over it. "

    "It can really add to your burden when friends don't appreciate the stress you're under," said the Child Mind Institute's Dr. Jamie Howard, adding that that's why it's so important to speak up about mental illness. "Your friends might need some help knowing how to respond. Empathy doesn't necessarily take place overnight. You may need to educate people."

    Since then Natasha has changed schools, and found new friends. "It's hard to tell people and have them react the way you want them to react," she said, 'but if they're really your friends they'll try to understand."

    When Franny Condon, now 15, was struggling with anxiety three years ago, her friends were understanding, she said, but the anxiety became more and more extreme. "Anxiety is not something that gets better without being paid attention to, Franny said. "For me it didn't come in one fell swoop. It came little by little and grew, and with everything I avoided I became afraid of something else."

    Franny was eloquent about what it takes to fight anxiety in treatment. " You have to change your thinking from using avoidance as a crutch to going through things you are afraid of systematically, until you can face them without irrational fear."

    Natasha agreed: "You have to do the opposite of what you want to do."

    And Shayla said she went so far as to force herself to start doing improv comedy to teach herself to face down fear. "It's way harder to do an improv comedy show, " she said, "way harder than just going out into the world. Day to day life seems so much less stressful—no waiting for applause or laughter. It reminds you that you can't control anything and that's okay."

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