The Child Mind BlogBrainstorm

  • 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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  • Can Meditation and Mindfulness Cure ADHD?
    May 14, 2014 Harry Kimball

    This week, an article in the New York Times about the potential for meditation and mindfulness training to ameliorate symptoms of ADHD has been causing some excitement. The author, Daniel Goleman, is a psychologist who has long been interested in meditation, and he suggests the practice helps improve "cognitive control" deficits associated with the disorder. And there are studies, he writes, that show mindfulness training leads to a "decline in impulsive errors," and that meditation appears "to strengthen the neural circuitry for keeping attention on a chosen point of focus."

    It should be noted that Goleman's focus on these brain-training strategies is tied to ambivalence about a common treatment for ADHD: drugs. "Meditation, not medication," you might say. He describes a "growing disenchantment" with stimulant meds—familiar to anyone who has read the recent string of anti-stimulant articles in the Times—and then, unfortunately, offers misleading study evidence in support of their unsuitability. For instance, if kids with ADHD in Finland take far less medication than American children, it does not necessarily indict the treatment.

    Everyone is entitled to an opinion on medication treatment, however. The real question here is this: Are meditation and mindfulness also good treatments? There is "huge potential" in this research, says Dr. Ron Steingard, associate medical director at the Child Mind Institute. And he is optimistic, but the fact is that the methods "aren't ready for primetime." The studies Goleman cites have limited sample sizes and do not include children. Their authors suggest more robust future research, which is a fantastic idea. As Dr. Steingard points out, high-functioning adults with ADHD who have learned to accommodate certain symptoms may very well use similar mental strategies; understanding this and developing evidence-based treatments would be an amazing help for people who struggle with the disorder.

    In the meantime, however, we don't know if these approaches will work in kids, and we don't know if they will help with the hyperactive and impulsive symptoms that pose such a threat to young people with ADHD. Just because we are optimistic does not mean we can cease to be realistic when it comes to the risks of the disorder and the proven treatments we have on hand now.

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  • Hollywood Speaks Up for Children's Mental Health
    May 13, 2014 Harry Kimball

    Last week in Los Angeles as part of Speak Up for Kids, producer Brian Grazer convened a panel of Hollywood leaders to discuss the depiction of mental illness in the media, and it highlighted the fascinating union of lived experience and pure entertainment that our best storytellers bring to the screen. In addition to Mr. Grazer, the panelists were director David O. Russell, TV showrunner Jason Katims, and Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos.

    As moderator Willow Bay pointed out, contrary to her journalistic training to be "very careful about my gender biases," these men are "fathers using their voice." The fact that dads are speaking up to "advocate on behalf of children and families struggling with these issues, to give a voice, a face, to give a story to the challenges of mental health," she continued, "is very well worth noting."

    And the whole conversation is well worth watching, which I encourage you to do so here. But if there is one takeaway for me, it's a combination of Russell's response to an audience member's question and something Sarandos said earlier in the event. The question: will it take "more sharing of stories" to address the stigma of mental illness? Mind you, Katims and Grazer have sons with Asperger's syndrome, and Russell's son has bipolar disorder. Yes, they agreed, visibility will reduce the shame. But Russell hit home just how damaging that shame is: it interferes with people being "responsible for themselves and their own behavior."

    He related this to the main character in his film Silver Linings Playbook. "Because of the stigma he didn't want to take his medication. And that's a big struggle for a lot of people." Russell's son also has behavioral plans to manage his symptoms. "Real simple—that's the driving manual for my son's life, his future. And when he masters that, he can go, just like someone who takes insulin everyday."

    But how do we get to the widespread understanding that can normalize chronic mental illness to the extent that symptoms and treatments alike are acceptableso that they can be owned and managed without shame by our sons and daughters? Unsurprisingly, the panel put faith in the screen. Sarandos put it in particularly honest terms.

    "When I was a kid, we learned almost everything in high school," he said. "Now, kids learn almost everything on television." That's not a bad thing for Sarandos, who has high school kids of his own. "When I was in high school, the kids with disabilities were corralled off somewhere else, we never saw them, they had a different lunch hour. We'd pass them like this," he said, miming a quick glimpse in the hallway, "who was that?" I remember the same thing when I was in elementary school. "There was no opportunity to get to know them, their stories, their lives."

    So Sarandos is happy that media is opening its eyes to the marginalized and stigmatizedbecause the younger generation is watching. And why wouldn't they be? "Parenthood is a great show," he concluded. "Silver Linings Playbook, you can't even talk about it without laughing."

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  • Speak Up: A Mother's Story
    May 12, 2014 Liza Long

    On December 14, 2012, the day that Adam Lanza killed his mother—then walked into an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, where he shot and killed 20 first graders, 6 educators, and himself—my then 13-year old son was in an acute care psychiatric hospital.

    Liza LongAfter years of incorrect diagnoses and medications that didn't work, I still didn't know what was wrong with Michael or how to help him. So I told my story to the world. When I wrote, "I Am Adam Lanza's Mother," millions of families responded and said, "That's our life, too." Today, in 2014, Michael is stable. He has a diagnosis, and medications and therapies that work for him.

    But before we could get help—before we could find hope—we had to speak up.

    This May, I encourage everyone to speak up for the one in five children in America who struggle with mental disorders. The Child Mind Institute's Speak Up for Kids campaign is making a difference. Together, as we share our stories and speak up for our kids, we move toward making real help, hope, and recovery a reality for our children and our families.

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  • Facing Down OCD: A Teenager Speaks Up
    May 6, 2014 Caroline Miller

    Ben Shapiro is a 17-year-old who's written a remarkable piece for Psychology Today about the OCD that took over his life five years ago, and the battle to get that life back.

    Ben is candid and articulate about what it felt like to be in the grip of obsessive terrors, and how his compulsive rituals alleviated those fears, giving him what clinicians who treat kids with OCD call a "just-right feeling." As Ben puts it: "It's like a drug for people with OCD; we will do whatever it takes to get that reassurance, no matter how embarrassing our rituals."

    Ben also interviewed two anxiety experts about OCD and the treatment for it, which in his case included medication and cognitive behavioral therapy. Ben was helped by both, he writes, but it's the CBT, with Dr. Jerry Bubrick at the Child Mind Institute, that he credits with bringing him down from the ledge. His description of how it works it is the best I've seen.

    Ben is also very articulate about his reasons for writing this piece, as part of our annual Speak Up for Kids campaign, aimed at reducing the stigma around mental illness that isolates families struggling with it. His words are more powerful than mine—I hope you'll read the piece.

    I decided to step forward and "speak up" on the chance that hearing my story might help even one other kid. OCD made me feel alienated in a world I was sure only I understood. Had I realized how false that was, that there are millions of us out there, I might have felt a little less alone. 

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