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The Child Mind BlogBrainstorm

  • Depression in Comics
    March 17, 2015 Beth Arky

    There is nothing funny about depression, but comics are a uniquely effective way to communicate what depression feels like. Proof can be found in this BuzzFeed post featuring 21 comics that capture the frustration and real pain the disorder brings to adults, children, and teens.

    While the majority of the cartoons cover depression in a general sense—the way it's poo-poo'd as if it weren't a "real" disease, the loss of interest in things one once enjoyed, the struggle to just get out of bed, let alone function—a couple focus directly on what it's like to be depressed as a young person.

    One comic, about the difficulties of trying to share your feelings with family by Moose Kleenex, shows a teen trying to open up by saying, "I'm feeling depressed lately..." to which her mom responds, "Oh don't be silly. You have everything in the world going for you," effectively shutting down her child. A week later, the picture is entirely different. As the kid stares out the car window, listless and disengaged, the now worried-looking parent asks, "How come you don't tell me anything?"

    In another, about the struggles of being a student dealing with depression by Paralanalysis, the character says, "I found it so very stressful when depression made it difficult to go to school.... The experience was quite jarring for me, because I had always been a bit of a teacher's pet. But I fear there are thousands who felt a little like I did. Who don't turn in essays...not because they want to misbehave...but because it is taking all of their strength not to run and cry."

    These eloquent cartoons speak volumes as to the importance of keeping the lines of communication open with kids about their feelings—and taking these feelings seriously.   

    Read more about how to help depressed teenagers here.  

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  • Stop Worrying About Those College Rejection Letters
    March 16, 2015 Caroline Miller

    New York Times columnist Frank Bruni has written a terrific piece on the experience millions of high school seniors are about to have in the next few weeks: being rejected by their first choice colleges. And sometimes their second, third, and fourth.

    It's a particularly good column because Bruni nails how brutal the experience can feel to these kids, and yet how being forced to depart from the script they had imagined for the next chapter of their lives can actually help them thrive.

    For one thing, being in a somewhat less competitive and entitled atmosphere can enable them to develop more confidence and enterprise. There can be an advantage to being around kids not, to use his rather delicate phrase, "as showily gifted." 

    For another thing, the experience of rejection itself can turn out to be surprisingly liberating. He quotes one student who said she felt "worthless" after her top five schools turned her down. But she discovered that rejection, like a lot of pain, was fleeting. And once she found her footing at her fallback school, she had lost the fear of rejection that holds so many of us back.

    "As a result, she told Bruni, "I applied for things fearlessly." This young woman went on to be accepted into Teach for America and recently launched a new charter school. "I never would have had the strength, drive or fearlessness to take such a risk if I hadn't been rejected so intensely before," she said. "There's a beauty to that kind of rejection, because it allows you to find the strength within."

    Bruni argues that rejection can help kids develop grit—that quality of perseverance and resourcefulness that has been linked to success in life, not just in school. But he's also arguing that that it's a fallacy that elite schools are the fast track (or the only track) to a rewarding and successful life. It may come from our worship of brands, or our tendency to measure our own worth by our kids' achievements. But it does our kids a disservice to make them think their lives hinge on this particular lottery.

    Bruni urges parents to let kids know, before the rejections and acceptances roll in, that they won't be a measure of their worth or their future potential. 

    Read more about how to help kids deal with rejection

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  • #TheDress and Autism
    Feb. 27, 2015 Rachel Ehmke

    The thing everyone and their mother was talking about on Thursday (besides the escaped llamas) was the dress. You know the one. At first I thought it was whitish/goldish, but then I decided it was probably blueish/blackish after all. I hear Taylor Swift and Kanye agree. Wired has posted a scientific explanation of the controversy, which has to do with how we interpret light and color. They also give what they say is a definitive answer.

    The cool thing about the dress, and what made it the enigmatic Mona Lisa of the week, wasn't the dress itself but how we each interpreted it. It was a very effective reminder that we all can be stumped by our senses at times, and we are all capable of experiencing the same things very differently. Which is nothing new to those who think a lot about sensory processing and autism.

    Emily Willingham, a science writer we admire, thought the controversy was pretty familiar. She posted to Twitter:

    Ari Ne'eman, president of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, agreed. Ne'eman said Dressgate is "a really good way of acknowledging that people see things differently, perceive things differently, and one way is not necessarily superior to the other." Which is an unexpected—and welcome—revelation to come out of the latest internet craze. 

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  • New York's First Lady Gets Real About Mental Health
    Feb. 27, 2015 Caroline Miller

    Chirlane McCray is one of the things New Yorkers liked about Bill DeBlasio when they elected him mayor of New York City in 2013. The family made such an unforgettable picture—the very tall white guy with the very short black wife and two quite colorful children. Bill and Chirlane seemed like real people who were comfortable being different and letting their kids be different.

    Of course Bill and Chirlane also had a record of being fierce and fearless advocates. And we're thrilled that Chirlane has decided to use her role as New York's first lady to focus on mental health. She's speaking out about, and collecting data about, the disturbing number of New Yorkers who don't have access to good mental health care. And she's being real about it: She published a piece today in the New York Daily News in which she writes about her struggles to find the right care for their daughter Chiara, who has struggled with anxiety, depression, and addiction.

    Like so many parents we hear from, she found it daunting to understand what Chiara needed and to respond effectively. "Our child was in terrible pain, but because it originated in her brain and not another part of her body, there wasn't an established series of steps to follow."

    The DeBlasio family is lucky, she notes, because they had the resources to get good treatment for Chiara, who she reports is doing well in recovery. But she hasn't forgotten what it was like:

    Even after our crisis ended, I couldn't forget how scared and helpless I felt during those first frantic weeks. So I continued my research, wanting to understand how other people manage in these situations, especially those who don't have the same advantages as us.

    Read the rest of her piece to see what she learned, and what she plans to do to help New York City develop a more inclusive system—one that acknowledges the very real obstacles that prevent people from getting care. As she puts it, "When I say a 'more inclusive' system, I mean one that meets—and treats —people where they live."

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  • Metta World Peace Coaches a Girls’ High School Basketball Team
    Feb. 26, 2015 Rachel Ehmke

    Metta World Peace, the NBA All-Star and member of the 2010 Lakers team that won the championship, is now an assistant basketball coach for Palisades Charter High School. He's been working with the girls' team since June, but Torino Johnson, the head coach, says they've been talking about him joining the staff ever since World Peace's daughter Sadie was playing for the team four years ago.  He has started helping out on his son's team as well.

    It would be an amazing opportunity for anyone to be coached by the NBA star, but the fact that he's taking his expertise to high school kids, and not only to high school kids but to high school girls, is pretty phenomenal. Women's athletics don't get a lot of respect, so knowing that an NBA champion takes girls' basketball seriously enough to sign on to coach must be a heady confidence boost for the players.

    When a reporter from TMZ Sports recently asked World Peace what it's like coaching a girls' high school basketball team, he replied, "They do a great job and they're smart—smarter than the boys." He was also very modest when the reporter pointed out it must be surreal for the girls to be coached by the former Lakers star. "Everybody had a coach," World Peace said. "Everybody needs some type of coach on their way to pro or college. And I played for professional basketball players who coached. You know, Phil Jackson was a basketball player and he coached us, and that was nice."

    There was a time when few people would have called World Peace a good role model. Back when the Queensbridge projects native went by Ron Artest, he made headlines for his anger issues, like the infamous 2004 "Malice at the Palace" brawl between players and fans. But he started going to counseling and changed his name to the Buddhist-inspired Metta World Peace, and since then he's been an outspoken advocate for mental health care. He thanked his psychiatrist after winning the 2010 NBA championship and even auctioned off his championship ring to raise money for mental health. He was already a favorite of ours, but hearing about his new coaching gig makes him even more of a hero.

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  • Teen Suicide and the Oscars
    Feb. 23, 2015 Caroline Miller

    There were a couple of electrifying moments at the generally snoozy Academy Awards ceremony last night, and one of them was when screenwriter Graham Moore, who won for The Imitation Game, used his Oscar moment to acknowledge that he tried to kill himself when he was 16. He did it, he said, "because I felt weird and I felt different, and I felt like did not belong. And now I'm standing here, and so I would like this moment to be for that kid who's out there who feels weird or feels different or feels she doesn't fit in anywhere. Yes you do. I promise you do."

    Moore's excellent shout-out to teenagers who have suicidal thoughts deserved the standing ovation it got. And it was especially welcome because just two days ago another teenager who was creative and clever and different also tried to kill himself—but Draven Rodriguez, unfortunately, succeeded.  

    Graham Moore, Oscars 2015

    Rodriguez was a smart, funny 17-year-old from Schenectady, New York, who had become something of an Internet sensation when he submitted a kitchy image of himself and his cat, against a background of colored lasers, for his high school yearbook picture. The picture was rejected—rules must be followed!—but his principal posed with Draven, his cat, and her Chihuahua for a separate page with a message about the importance of adopting pets from rescue organizations. And the original picture went viral.

    Draven's parents haven't shared any more information about what might have been behind his suicide, but they noted his independent streak. At 9, he was allowed to have his hair dyed green, as long as he brought home good grades. His interests included guitar, computers, gaming, running, rowing, and grammar—including correcting his teachers, the Times-Union reports. We don't know if he struggled with depression or anxiety, but he was certainly different.

    Moore, a successful novelist as well as a sought-after screenwriter, acknowledged to Dateline Hollywood backstage at the Oscars that he had been depressed as a teenager, and has continued to struggle with depression since then.

    We couldn't admire more his decision to use his Oscar win to extend a hand to other struggling teenagers. He said backstage that it had been hard, but he thought, "I'm a writer, when am I ever going to be on television? I might as well use it to say something useful."

    Teenage suicides are so often an utter surprise to the people who love them that helping kids who are struggling to be more open about their pain can be a life-saver.

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  • A Salute to the Academy for Recognizing Mental Health in Film
    Feb. 20, 2015 Harold Koplewicz

    This year, Hollywood made major strides in recognizing the importance of mental health through the accurate portrayal of psychiatric disorders in film. Reese Witherspoon gave a riveting performance in Wild as a woman healing from the trauma of losing her mother by walking the Pacific Coast Trail and reconnecting with herself. Whiplash showed the stress that's an inevitable part of striving to be the best, and the strong impact teachers can have on their students—for better or worse. In The Imitation Game, Benedict Cumberbatch portrayed genius code breaker Alan Turing in a way that showed just how isolating genius can be. Meanwhile, The Theory of Everything showed not only how ALS has affected Stephen Hawking, but also the emotional burden on his wife and family. For many, movies are the first vehicle through which they see and begin to understand mental health issues, which is why it is so important that these films reflect reality.

    Rachel Ehmke
    Fox Searchlight

    More than 15 million American children live with a psychiatric or learning disorder. That's more than the number of children affected by leukemia, diabetes and AIDS combined. Yet historically, Hollywood has rarely told these stories, and when it has, they have often been painted as terrifying or laughable. Thankfully, this is changing.

    I am thrilled to see Hollywood creating more and more films over the last five years that accurately portray different types of mental illness and hardship. From Silver Linings Playbook to The King's Speech, these films are making a real difference in how the public views and comprehends mental health.

    Mental health is often misunderstood, but it doesn't have to be. Accurate portrayals of mental illnesses like autism or bipolar disorder in the media help the general public better understand the reality behind these diseases. One in five children copes with a psychiatric or learning disorder. Yet parents who notice signs of psychiatric or learning disorders in their children wait, on average, two years to get help for them. There are various reasons for this—parents are scared, they hope their son or daughter will outgrow it, or they think their child is just a late developer. But a major reason people hesitate to get help is because of the stigma attached to mental illness. The fact is, mental illness is real, common and treatable. That's where films like this year's Oscar nominees come in.  

    These films can change people's minds about mental health and learning disabilities. Though we still have a long way to go when it comes to ending stigma and raising awareness, these films provide a good start. My hope is that as more and more of these stories are told through notable and award-winning movies, parents will feel more comfortable talking to other parents, educators, or health professionals about their children's mental health issues.

    It is vital that people be open and knowledgeable about mental health, and much of this begins with what we see in film, television, and the media around us.

    I applaud the Academy for drawing attention to these important issues, and I look forward to seeing many more films that accurately portray the difficulties, triumphs, and overall journeys associated with mental health. 

    Originally published at the Hollywood Reporter

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  • Kate Middleton Speaks Up on Kids' Mental Health
    Feb. 16, 2015 Caroline Miller

    We like our princesses with mettle, and Kate Middleton showed hers today by sticking up for kids who are struggling with mental health issues. We couldn't have said it better: "The stigma around mental health means that many children do not get the help that they so badly need," she said in a video PSA for the first Children's Mental Health Week in the UK. "This needs to change."

    The week is the work of a British group called Place2Be, a non-profit that provides school-based mental health support for kids. The group acknowledges that it can be hard for parents to ask for help for their kids, and that talking more openly about mental health opens the door to getting more kids help. As the Duchess of Cambridge puts it:

    We need to help young people and their parents understand that it is not a sign of weakness to ask for help. A child's mental health is just as important as their physical health, and deserves the same quality of support. No one would feel embarrassed about seeking help for a child if they broke their arm, and we really should be equally ready to support a child coping with emotional difficulties.

    The Duchess, who is pregnant with her second child, spoke about the importance of early intervention to prevent kids from developing more resistant problems when they are older, including anxiety, depression, addiction and self-harm. "Both William and I sincerely believe that early action can prevent problems in childhood from turning into larger ones later in life."

    We're delighted that the Dutchess has chosen this focus for her charity efforts.  A spokesman for Kensington Palace calls her "a committed champion of issues related to children's mental health and emotional wellbeing." And she has a winning can-do attitude. As she says firmly in closing the PSA:

    Together, with open conversations and greater understanding, we can insure that attitudes towards mental health change and children receive the support they deserve.

    Watch the PSA here:

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  • Vaccines, Measles, and Roald Dahl
    Feb. 3, 2015 Caroline Miller

    The battle over vaccinating children took a disturbing turn this week, and I don't mean just the 102 cases of measles now scattered around 14 states. This week vaccinations became a hot-button political issue, as a couple of potential presidential candidates went on record supporting parents making their own decision on whether to vaccinate.

    Statements to that effect by Gov. Chris Christie and Senator Rand Paul prompted howls of outrage from epidemiologists, doctors, parents, and others. Collectively they noted that vaccinations are not just an individual lifestyle choice like attachment parenting or avoiding processed foods. Not vaccinating your child affects other children in a dramatic way, making it a major public health risk.

    The deep concern here is that the backlash threatens to make opposition to vaccination a rallying cry for conservative skeptics of government (and often science). As a Times headline put it, what's spreading along with measles is polarization, and that doesn't help the cause of getting kids vaccinated.

    Much has been written about how bad human beings are at measuring risk—we chronically worry about the wrong thing. In this case, a growing number of families think that the risk to their kids from vaccines—despite the overwhelming evidence that there is no link to autism—is greater than the risk to their kids, and other kids they might infect, from measles.

    Oh, the irony. Thanks, in part, to vaccines, we are so unfamiliar with these childhood illnesses that some of us don't understand that they're not just nuisances. The consequences can be deadly.

    On this the last word has to go to Roald Dahl, whose 7-year-old daughter Olivia contracted the measles in 1962. She seemed to be recovering routinely when she suddenly couldn't make her hands work. Two decades later, he wrote:

    In an hour, she was unconscious. In twelve hours she was dead.

    The measles had turned into a terrible thing called measles encephalitis and there was nothing the doctors could do to save her. That was twenty-four years ago in 1962, but even now, if a child with measles happens to develop the same deadly reaction from measles as Olivia did, there would still be nothing the doctors could do to help her.

    On the other hand, there is today something that parents can do to make sure that this sort of tragedy does not happen to a child of theirs. They can insist that their child is immunized against measles. I was unable to do that for Olivia in 1962 because in those days a reliable measles vaccine had not been discovered. Today a good and safe vaccine is available to every family and all you have to do is to ask your doctor to administer it.

    Dahl's description is still accurate—and bolstered by 30 additional years of scientific research in vaccine safety. I hope more parents will see that not vaccinating is not a harmless decision. 

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  • What Jennifer Aniston's Dyslexia Can Teach Us
    Jan. 27, 2015 Harry Kimball

    The big news from a recent Hollywood Reporter article on actress Jennifer Aniston is her revelation that she struggled with dyslexia as a young person. She didn't receive a diagnosis, and the comfort and understanding that it can bring, until her early 20s. "I thought I wasn't smart," she tells reporter Stephen Galloway. "Now I had this great discovery."

    But what I feel is at the heart of the piece is a discussion of Aniston's resilience. Sure, Galloway presents it in tabloid terms: "Aniston's enduring appeal is rooted in the very fact that she can be hurt, again and again—whether by the Oscars or the Sexiest Man Alive—and she'll endure." But the more interesting stuff is pre-fame, pre-Brad, pre-Cake.

    She describes a difficult home life and a critical mother—but also outlets for expression, and other sources of encouragement. Her father's mother: "She was a Greek grandmother who just loved me more than anything." And she embraced acting. As Galloway writes, her dyslexia pushed her "to develop her innate humor," and towards the stage.

    Aniston acknowledges in the article that doesn't do much reading because of her dyslexia, and that's a shame. Over the years we've encountered so many talented actors and entertainers who have used their extraordinary reserves of willpower and ambition to succeed despite a learning disorder, and that is admirable. But I don't think they would be any less successful if they had gotten help earlier in life, when it matters most.

    Aniston recounts her diagnosis:

    I went to get a prescription for glasses. I had to wear these Buddy Holly glasses. One had a blue lens and one had a red lens. And I had to read a paragraph, and they gave me a quiz, gave me 10 questions based on what I'd just read, and I think I got three right. Then they put a computer on my eyes, showing where my eyes went when I read. My eyes would jump four words and go back two words.

    Aniston obviously doesn't want for success, not to speak of a public that loves her. But the image of her "Buddy Holly glasses" accidental diagnosis reminds us of how important it is to get help for kids who, like her, think there's something wrong with them because they try just as hard but can't do what other kids do easily. And maybe Jen can lend a hand.

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