Mental Health Awareness Month – Headlines and Quiet Shadows

By Erika Krull, MS, LMHP

Mental Health Awareness Month Kuzeytac via Compfight

Because May is Mental Health Awareness Month, I wanted to take a look at how the news has shaped our understanding of mental illness. In the last year, you were probably saddened and alarmed by some of the many news stories involving loss of life.

Unfortunately, some of the more shocking mass killings have had mental illness diagnoses (or the experts’ best guesses) sprinkled throughout many of the articles and news reports. If the news has been your main source of information about mental illness, you might wonder if you can ever be safe in public.

The accused shooter in Aurora, Colorado was seeing a psychologist shortly before killing and injuring many people in a movie theater last summer. The shooter in the Newton, Connecticutt elementary school tragedy may or may not have had a diagnosable mental illness.

Because these events were horrifying and highly publicized, they have affected the way the general public sees mental illness. It may be impossible to measure this impact, but you can’t think of either event without also recalling something about the shooter’s state of mental health. Violence and mental health have been tightly linked with these events.

The point of Mental Health Awareness Month is to go beyond the headlines and the popular conceptions of mental health. To really understand people who have mental illness, you need to explore the quiet shadows. The vast majority of these individuals face their symptoms without ever becoming a news story.

New moms experience postpartum depression in the middle of the night as they care for their newborns. Elderly people with depression face another day by avoiding social interaction any way they can. Teens with anxiety turn down invitations from friends to avoid having a panic attack in public. Adults with bipolar disorder try to sort out the trouble from dramatic mood swings within the privacy of a counselor’s office.

More than likely, you know someone who has recently struggled with some kind of mental health issue. It’s important to know that many mental health problems can have mild or moderate symptoms and are very treatable. Even though severe problems can grab headlines once in a while, they do not represent the majority of mental illness experiences.

Take a moment to look into your community’s mental health services. Flip through the yellow pages or ask your local medical clinic where someone might go if they felt depressed or highly anxious. Even if you don’t believe you have a family history of mental health problems, traumatic events can happen to anyone. Just as you would be aware of the medical clinics in your area, it’s a good idea to know how to seek basic mental health care.

Mental Health Awareness Month is about more than just reading headlines. It’s about understanding the resources your community and learning how people live with mental illness. Take these steps today and you could help someone come out of the shadows of mental illness.



Strapless Dresses and School Dress Code Part 2 – Parents vs School

By Erika Krull, MS, LMHP

Strapless Dress Banned Parents and School Dress Code

When last we met, I discussed a few questions I had about a New Jersey school’s dress code banning strapless dresses for an 8th grade formal dance. I invite you to refresh your memory on the first two points I brought up about this controversial situation. And here’s the original news article as well.

And now, the rest of the story.

Is this dress code really a violation of constitutional rights?

One particularly vocal parent spoke about this dress code being sexist and going against her daughter’s 14th amendment rights for equal protection.

Whoa. Really? I’m not a lawyer, but saying a school dress code for 8th graders translates to a violation of constitutional rights seems like a real stretch. Adults are supposed to create guidelines for minor children. I don’t know what the dress code for that school says about boys, but there’s probably something about wearing appropriate pants or shirts in there.

The principal’s point is that strapless dresses are “distracting” to boys. A few parents say this is sexist because this makes it the girl’s fault for a boy behaving out of control.

I do agree with the parent about that general stance. Men and boys are 100% responsible for their own behaviors toward women and girls. I also agree that a half inch of fabric isn’t going to be a practical barrier for any determined boy or girl. Ahem.

However, I also think it’s fine to have a more conservative guideline for minors at a school-sponsored event. Straps do keep dresses from falling down, and pulling a dress up all night long is certainly distracting and not very comfortable.

These girls have the rest of their teenage and adult lives to struggle with their body image, fashion trends, and the idea of growing up. Why push this on them at an even younger age?

There’s a clear business opportunity for some enterprising person with sewing skills and some fashion sense.

What if the ban were seen as an opportunity instead of a problem? Seize the moment, put a positive spin on it, and provide creative solutions to the problem. A budding fashion designer or a creative mom with good sewing skills could become the go-to person for working with the dress code. I still think 8th grade is a little young for a formal dance, but I like the idea of creative solutions.

Buy a flattering dress, work out a custom strap design or shoulder cover-up that works with the overall look, and the dress becomes completely unique. It’s a great way for a girl to put her own personality into a dress while still being in line with the code.

What Do You Think?

As before, I’m really interested in your thoughts. This is a multi-faceted topic with many points of discussion. These are your kids, future adults of the world.

What do you think about dress codes and parent opinion? How do you think the school and parents should resolve this?

Thomas Hawk via Compfight



Strapless Dresses and School Dress Code – Parents vs School

By Erika Krull, MS, LMHP

Strapless Dress Banned Parents and School Dress Code

I recently came across this article about strapless dresses at an 8th grade formal dance. While not on the level of some other recent news events, this article really caught my eye. Where there’s a ban on something, there’s likely to be a protest and some controversy.

As I read through the article, I was not disappointed. This school in New Jersey is sponsoring an 8th grade formal, but it is off-campus and the parents are evidently paying the bill. The school is enforcing a dress code that effectively bans strapless clothing items, which means dresses in this case.

I have found a few other versions of this story, but I can’t find many more details. This is a multi-faceted topic and it raises a number of questions and thoughts in my mind. I’m not saying I have an authoritative answer for any of them. But it’s an important topic for you and me to wrestle with. This article isn’t just about girls and what they wear, by the way. Let’s dig in.

Why is the school sponsoring a formal dance for 8th graders?

Perhaps this is just me being a fuddy duddy, but I’m not sure why this level of formal dress is necessary for 13 and 14 year olds when high school is just around the corner. What makes prom all that special when you’re dressing so formally in 8th grade?

Also, the school has put themselves in a bit of a spot here. They are applying their universal dress code to this dance, which bans strapless clothing. Yet they are sponsoring a formal dance, which means girls are expecting to wear prom dresses. Trying to find a prom dress that’s not strapless sounds like a highly challenging quest from what I understand.

So again, I ask why the school is sponsoring this type of dance when it will be challenging for parents and kids to comply (even if they are all for it)? Making this dance semi-formal would take away the expectation that creates the conflict.

What about the families that are on board with this dress code?

As you might expect, the article only featured parents who are prepared to protest the dress code. I wonder if there’s actually a large number of parents who may find it challenging to work around the strapless thing, but don’t have a problem following the dress code. The hype from a few may be masking a quiet majority.

If I have an issue with the dress code, it would be how much advance notice the parents got from the school. As a parent, I couldn’t see myself fighting this on principle. However, I can understand frustration from parents who have already bought dresses and now need to make an adjustment.

Knowing that many parents might buy dresses early, the school could have made this clear months ago. Also, I wonder if the code was different last year or what else made parents thought they could get strapless dresses in the first place. Not quite enough information to get the big picture it seems.

Stay Tuned

There’s more coming from me in a few days. I have a few more thoughts on this article that I couldn’t fit into this post.

I understand you may not all agree with me and that’s fine. This is meant to be a place of discussion and sharing. What do you think? Do the parents have the right idea protesting the dress code? Or is the school right to stick to the original restriction on strapless clothing?

Creative Commons License Helga Weber via Compfight



Parental Influence – It Matters More Than You Think, Part 2

By Erika Krull, MS, LMHP

Parental Influence

That moment when you feel like the Invisible Mom or Dad, wondering if your kids are paying any attention to you at all…

Yes, we’ve all been there. It can seem like your wise words go in one ear and out the other. Your attempts to teach them the right and best ways to do things are met with sighs and sour looks. Despite their discouraging reactions, your parental influence really does matter to your kids. You can make the most of this secret superpower by reading more here. If you didn’t see part 1, go back and check it out.

Academics

You’ll be pleased to know that it’s not your kid’s teachers, their peers, or school programs that make the biggest difference in your child’s academic success. A group of researchers from three universities determined that it’s you, the parent.

Information from the National Education Longitudinal Study helped researchers come to this conclusion. Take a look at this article describing the research outcomes. They break down the different aspects of influence into school areas and family areas.

Physical Activity

Physical activity is in important factor in a child’s overall health. The NFL promotes a “Play 60″ campaign and the First Lady has “Let’s Move”. What’s your approach to keeping your kids physically active?

Research shows that your support is positively linked with your child’s level of physical activity. If you keep encouraging them and finding enjoyable physical outlets for them, they’ll be more likely to keep it up. This study didn’t find a specific connection between parental physical activity and child activity. However, showing a good example by going to the gym regularly or playing with them outside certainly can’t hurt.

Sexual Behaviors

Sex – it’s a topic that often makes parents worry and kids curious. Fortunately, kids look to their parents for guidance and information, often to a greater extend than parents expect.

The key to this effective influence is a close parent-child relationship. Teens who feel close to their parents will wait longer before engaging in sexual behaviors and will have fewer partners. A similar outcome occurs when parents are clear about the benefits of delaying sex.

This article outlines many important research findings about teens and sexual activity.

Losing and Gaining Influence

By now, you should feel more confident in your ability to have a positive influence on your child. Even when it seems like they might be tuning you out, you still really matter to them.

However, you need to be aware of a few mistakes you might be making that can cause you to lose ground with your teen. Yelling may make an impact at first, but the intense emotion will make your teen tune out your message. Being a friend to your child may feel like a good thing sometimes, but they won’t respect you as a person of authority.

The good news is that you always have control over your own choices. Whether you want to strengthen your current relationship or repair a difficult one, you can take these positive steps today. To remain consistent, only use consequences you know you can enforce. Find ways to clearly state your upset feelings without yelling. Hold your teen to their responsibilities no matter how much they protest.

When your teen sees you as a strong loving parent they can count on, they’ll be ready for your influence.

Dimitris Papazimouris via Compfight



Parental Influence – It Matters More Than You May Think

By Erika Krull, MS, LMHP

Parental Influence

Wonder if you have any parental influence at all? Have days when you feel invisible to your child or like your words go in one ear and out the other?

Every parent has those days (or months) and they can be pretty frustrating. But take heart – you’ll probably feel better after reading this article. Believe it or not, you are probably making a bigger impact on your kids than you think.

First of all, let’s recognize that kids and parents can easily get caught up in emotional patterns that don’t work. Rather than taking a step back to see the mechanics of the problem, parents sometimes let frustration take over.

Use the information in these sections to give you a new perspective, a different plan, and a reminder about the bigger picture. Parenting can be tough sometimes, but your influence really does matter to your kids.

Drug and Alcohol Use

Teen drug and alcohol use is a reality in nearly every community, but it doesn’t have to be a part of your family life. Your attitude and behaviors make a big difference to your kids. According to Treatment Solutions, teens respond more to the influence of their parents than they do to peers or school programs.

So what can you do? Be 100% clear that you expect them to avoid drugs and alcohol, set a healthy example with your own substance use (abstinence or healthy moderation), and keep your family relationships strong. These choices will help your kids avoid the pitfalls of drug and alcohol use. Here’s another resource discussing how a positive warm parenting style influences a child’s choices about alcohol and drugs.

Eating Behavior

Childhood obesity has been a hot topic in recent years. The First Lady, Michelle Obama, has also kept this topic in the spotlight the last several years. The truth is clear – obesity increases the risk of many other health problems developing.

Thankfully, a study from the Journal of Law, Medicine, and Ethics shows that parental influence can have a big impact. As a parent, you can control your home environment by offering healthy snacks and meals. Need your kids to buy-in to this a little better? Have them help you prepare meals, teach them about the foods they are preparing, and help them choose indulgent foods in moderation.

Of course, some childhood weight problems involve medical challenges or other difficulties. Don’t give up, and stay positive when supporting your child’s healthy eating habits.

Self-Esteem

Positive self esteem can help a child bounce back from disappointments, challenges, and daily frustrations. As a parent, your attitude has a strong influence on your child. Whether your opinion of yourself is positive or negative, your child will likely follow your example.

Take a look in the mirror and make every effort to see the good in yourself. Deal with your frustrations honestly but without demeaning yourself. You’ll see your own positivity rub off on your child.

As a side note, if you find that you struggle with depressive thoughts or a great deal of anxiety, please see your doctor or talk to someone about it. You may be dealing with more than some occasional negative self-talk. Addressing a more significant mental health issue will also have a positive healthy impact on your child.

More Topics To Come

Guess what? I found way too much information on this to fit into just one blog post. Come back in a few days to learn more about your silent superpower – parental influence.

Thomas Hawk via Compfight



When Your Child’s Best Friend Moves Away

By Erika Krull, MS, LMHP

Best Friend Moves Away

My best friend moved away during the summer between our 5th and 6th grade years. We were peas in a pod, spent nearly every recess together, and even picked out the same instrument to play in the 5th grade band.

Then near the end of the school year I learned she was moving to another state. The most vivid memory of this situation is the bus ride on my first day of 6th grade. Without her. Someone asked me where she was and I think I came unglued, shedding tears of loneliness as I told that kid my best friend had moved away.

Families move for a number of reasons, and it seems to be more common than ever before. Once in a while, the kid that moves out of your school district or neighborhood may be your child’s best friend. Not just one of their good friends, but THE best friend. The other pea in their pod.

So what do you do to help? Well, you can’t take away their sense of loss, but you can help them with their emotions and keep them connected.

Reading – My mom gave me a book called Iggie’s House by Judy Blume. There’s more to the plot than just this, but I really identified with the main character’s sense of loss after her friend moves to another country. Just reading someone else’s experience helped me to validate what I was feeling.

Technology – I wish I’d had Facebook, video chatting, and email when my friend moved away. While it wouldn’t have removed the distance between us, I’m sure that watching her speak and move in real time would have made the separation less difficult.

Create recordable memories – My friend and I loved to sing, which means I now have a few very treasured cassette recordings of our voices at age 9 or so. These days, it doesn’t take much to make great videos or scrapbooks of time spent together. Just the experience of making these mementos is a great way to just be with each other.

Social Support – As the reality of their friend moving sinks in, it’s important to help your child stay connected with other friends and family members. They may start feeling lonely and isolated before the move even happens. They need to know that even though their best friend is moving, they have a big support network of people who care about them.

Your Emotional Support – During the time between getting the news and even after the move, you may notice some changes with your child. They may appear more moody, isolated, distractible, or even too goofy. They may be overwhelmed by their feelings or may be trying to distract themselves from reality.

Stay aware of the connection between their loss and their behaviors. Let them know that you understand they are in pain and that you will do whatever you can to help. And if your child wants space to just dwell in their feelings for a while, that’s OK too. You don’t always have to cheer them up to help them.

As long as your child has healthy coping skills at their disposal, there’s nothing wrong with letting
them be sad for a while. The freedom to genuinely feel and express emotions can be much more freeing than attempts to appear “pulled
together”.

In time, things will get better. The sting will soften, they will either find ways to keep in touch or communication will naturally become more sparse. Either way, they will learn to cope with loss while having your support and
guidance.

Creative Commons License Jody McNary via Compfight



After the Boston Marathon Tragedy – Taking Care Yourself When Traumatic Events Occur

By Erika Krull, MS, LMHP

Boston marathon - coping traumatic events

By now, you have probably heard or read many stories about the horrible bombing that occurred at the Boston Marathon. If you are feeling emotionally drained from this event, you are not alone. Tragedies and shocking news events can be stressful for many people, even if they are observing from afar.

Lauren Hale, author of My Postpartum Voice and leader of PPDChat on Twitter, does much to help others with traumatic stress. She shares important coping tips and support with her readers. This help becomes especially important when a shocking news event occurs. Hale says that women with postpartum mental health issues are a vulnerable population. Because their emotions are already taxed by their personal situation, these kinds of events can be overwhelming.

Hale has also experienced the impact of Hurricane Sandy. In this blog post, she described her reaction to the storm a few weeks after it occurred. This devastating storm swept over her current home in Pennsylvania and pounded the New Jersey coastline where she grew up. She personally understands how difficult it can be to live each day with on-going emotional strain.

Tragedies and other shocking events can have a strong effect on anyone dealing with mental illness or other difficult life situations. In today’s age of the 24-hour news cycle, it’s so easy to get bombarded with emotionally-charged images and graphic descriptions.

According to Hale, it’s best to limit exposure and take good care of your emotional needs. Thoughts, worries, and images of the events can become overpowering if you are already struggling to manage your emotions.

If you have a strong reaction and find yourself getting caught up in all the information, take a step back from everything related to the event right away. Get off-line, put down the newspaper, and keep the radio turned away from the news. As Hale says, “play with your kids, get outside, bake, cook, clean, something.”

She also recommends visiting the Distaster Distress website. The helpline is free and confidential for anyone needing help with stress reactions to a trauma. You can also find links near the bottom of the front page to their Facebook page and Twitter account. The rest of the website has many other resources like coping tips and warning signs.

More tips from Lauren Hale:

1. If you are online, don’t click on news links. Some raw videos or images can be disturbing.

2. Reach out and talk to people you trust. Even if you have no personal connection to a particular event, they can be emotionally overwhelming to anyone.

3. Don’t forget to breathe! Deep breaths can be relaxing and you can do them anytime.

4. If being online exposes you to too many triggers, then stay off-line for a while. Find other ways to communicate with loved ones for the moment.

5. Minimize or avoid discussion of these events with children. A simple conversation can be helpful if your family personally knows someone involved in the situation.

Many thanks to Lauren Hale for helping me with this article. If you have any more helpful tips for coping with traumatic events, please add them in the comments.

Juan José Aza via Compfight



Helping Children After Divorce

By Erika Krull, MS, LMHP

Helping Children After Divorce
Divorce is a part of life for many children. Since roughly 50% of all marriages in the United States end in divorce, it’s still a very relevant topic for families today.

Fortunately, researchers have worked for years to establish solid information about the outcomes of divorce. According to Joanne Pedro-Carroll, PhD, founder of Children of Divorce Intervention Program USA, there are three main factors that impact children’s well-being during and after their parents’ divorce. Hostile conflict, the quality of parenting over time, and the parent-child relationship all make a huge difference in the way children cope with divorce.

These three factors can certainly strongly impact a child in a family with an intact marriage as well. However, a healthy balance among these factors seems to be even more critical when the parents are no longer spouses. The disruption of divorce can truly test the resilience and relationship skills of each family member.

Research has also confirmed that divorce does elevate a child’s risk of having emotional, academic, and social problems. A child who initially shows several symptoms of distress is among the most vulnerable to problems. However, long-term studies are also showing that most children from a divorced family transition to adulthood with few major issues.

In a nutshell, the smaller percentage who really struggle at first are the most likely to have significant problems. And overall, simply growing up in a divorced family does not automatically mean a child will develop significant lifelong emotional problems.

Because the initial stage of divorce can be the most stressful, let’s take a look at some of the best ways to reduce harm to a child’s life.

1. Give children some notice before things start to change.
2. Allow children a chance to talk and ask questions as much as possible.
3. Keep parental conflict to a minimum, and keep the kids out of it.
4. Show warmth and love, assuring children they will always be loved no matter what. Spend personal time with each child to help strengthen your parent-child relationship.
5. Be consistent with information, with discipline, with routines, with everything. This is a good thing to strive for as a parent anyway, but it is critical for a family dealing with divorce.
6. Take advantage of support groups or after-school programs for children of divorce when possible. Social support can make a difference for both parents and children.
7. Put the oxygen mask on yourself and the assist others. In other words, take good care of yourself as an individual and a parent so you can be better equipped to support your children.

Readers, please add your thoughts, comments, and additional suggestions to the list above. Your personal experiences and viewpoints are a valuable part of the discussion. If you have been through a divorce (as a parent or a child), please share what you thought helped the most.

Jeannette E. Spaghetti via Compfight



Children With Chronic Illness – Living and Coping

By Erika Krull, MS, LMHP

Child serious illness coping

You may have seen this video of a 7 year-old pediatric brain cancer patient a touchdown run at the Nebraska Spring Game. The young boy, Jack Hoffman, was given this opportunity because of his friendship with a former player and his closeness to the football team. While this event was touching and inspiring to millions, it is also part of a brief respite from Jack’s 60-week chemotherapy treatment. For a boy of just 7 years, 60 weeks is a pretty big chunk of time.

I was at this game and felt the wave of emotion sweep over the crowd for this young boy. We cheered loudly with tears in our eyes. We all understood that for every minute of joy he felt on the football field that afternoon, there have been hours and days of difficulty throughout his ordeal.

His progress is going well, but the battle is far from over. There will certainly be times when little Jack will draw on this amazing experience to get him through difficult and painful moments. This moving experience prompted me to look further into how kids with chronic or serious illnesses cope with their conditions.

This article called Children With Chronic Conditions covers a number of important topics including self awareness, dealing with death, and recognizing depression. I thought the depression segment was perhaps the most enlightening part of the article. It’s interesting how people assume that depression is automatically part of a serious illness. It’s certainly important to be sure a depressed child gets proper mental health treatment, but this shows that healthy resilience can be normal, too.

An innovative idea from a nurse became the foundation of a charity to help kids cope with serious illness. Jean Baruch found that kids at summer camp (for children coping with serious illnesses) loved to work with, wear, and trade strings of beads. The charity program helps kids tell their story of illness and recovery with beads representing moments and milestones. This is a neat idea that turns difficult emotional topics into something tactile and physical. It also helps kids connect their experiences, whether triumphant or upsetting, into a meaningful personal story. The charity is called Beads of Courage.

While these are just two of many resources out there, I hope you find them as thought-provoking as I did. If you know of other good articles or recommendations on how kids cope with serious illness, please add your thoughts to the comment area below.

Creative Commons License Hartwig HKD via Compfight



Spirituality and Mental Health

By Erika Krull, MS, LMHP
Spirituality and Mental Health

For those of you who are Christian, I hope you have had a wonderful Easter Sunday. For those of you who are not, I still hope you’ve had a wonderful Sunday.

In light of today being Easter, I’m sharing a some reading about spirituality and mental health. Whether your family practices a particular religion or not, I hope you will find this article thought-provoking.

This article from the Christianity Today blog reports on a study showing that people who are spiritual but not religious can suffer from more mental health problems. The main point made at the end of the article shows why this difference matters.

One key reason is that attending church gives people an opportunity to share their spirituality within the context of a social network. Two other reasons are cited, but let me expand a bit on the importance ofa social network.

The example that strikes me the most is about pregnancy and mental health Whether a mom experiences mild postpartum depression, anxiety during pregnancy, or postpartum OCD, one of the most effective interventions is to boost social support. It helps even more to add as many pregnant or postpartum moms as possible to the distressed mom’s support network.

Why does this help? The mom learns how to trust others around her when she needs practical help, emotional support, or some advice. This support network also helps the mom to normalize her concerns instead of feeling isolated and incompetent.

A religious support network can provide similar benefits when people face stressful life events. A person in need is less likely to feel isolated and helpless when they have form close connections with people they see on a regular basis.

Most likely, this article was done with only adults. But I would guess this impact is similar for children and teens. Religious education activities (Sunday School, confirmation, etc) can create opportunities for personal conversation and closer relationships between kids.

I know that one of my good friends from school was an even closer friend as a result of our time in church activities over the years. Our families were connected beyond just casual social encounters in our community or the school hallways.

Be sure to read the summary article to learn more about the results of the study and make your own conclusions. Please comment on any thoughts you have about this study or this topic, regardless of your religious status.



 
 

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