In the News Articles

10 Tips to Help Kids Cope with War & Traumatic Events

Monday, August 11th, 2014

yolo “I dream of giving birth to a child who will ask, ‘Mother, what was war?'” ~Eve Merriam

These are uncertain, turbulent times, colored as they are by fears about war and terrorism. As a result, children as well as adults are experiencing higher levels of stress.

When a flu bug is going around, conscientious parents make sure their child is getting plenty of sleep, vitamins, and a healthy diet to build their immune system. How can we, in a similar fashion, build up our children’s capacity to deal with current stresses?

Although there is no magic pill, there is a healthy diet of social and emotional skills that you can provide children. Increasing these skills is the most effective way to help them deal with the current threat, as well as learn valuable lessons to last a lifetime.

It is normal for them to feel afraid, yet there are things we can do to help our kids function optimally in these trying times. Here are some tips for parents, teachers and child professionals…

Tip #1: Ask questions and listen.

_DSC0285Discuss the concerns that your children have by first asking them what they are hearing from peers, school and the news. Don’t push the issue. It’s best not to fill them with fears they don’t have, but also realize that concerns don’t go away if we try to ignore them.

If they are worried, reassure with words like “I can see you are feeling really scared. This is a hard time for us.” “I know we’ll feel better when it’s over.” Avoid telling them “Everything will be okay,” because if something does happen, you’ll lose their trust.

Tip #2: Help them separate imagined from realistic fears.

Entertainment and real events can blend together and their imaginations can run wild–like thinking that a war with Iraq will be like Star Wars. Many kids who saw the twin towers falling on 9/11 insisted it was a movie. Others seeing the image repeated on the news thought the event was happening over and over again. Children need …

The Aftermath of the Isla Vista Massacre: What Can Be Learned

Tuesday, June 3rd, 2014

imagesThe tragedy in Isla Vista has left my precious Santa Barbara community—and the nation—reeling. The senseless violence, claiming the lives of innocent young people, has stimulated many different conversations…Conversations about mental illness, about more stringent gun control laws, about violence against women, about inappropriate parenting and the rise of narcissism.

No one, myself included, wants to accept that we are utterly powerless, and that the rising tide of mass murders cannot be stopped. We should all be asking ourselves, our loved ones, our colleagues, our communities and our government officials—what can we learn from Isla Vista, from Newtown, from Aurora, from Columbine?

Is there anything we can do to prevent this kind of violence in the future? Even if we only make a dent in the numbers, we will have made a difference. There will not be one answer or a quick fix. Hopefully, we will respond on many levels.
The Mental Illness Issue
When stories about mass murder break, spotlights are often focused on mental illness. Experts and armchair therapists alike weigh in on possible diagnoses, lack of adequate or appropriate treatment, and decry the culpability of parents, psychiatrists, and an underfunded mental health system. Although an important part of the story, it is only one piece of the larger puzzle.

images-2What are the dangers of limiting ourselves to the conclusion that these crimes are the result of improperly treated mental illness? One negative outcome is that we further stigmatize all forms of mental illness—including the many diagnoses that have no significant correlation with violence at all.

For example, in the case of the I.V. massacre, the perpetrator was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome. What most of the reporters failed to mention was that people with Asperger’s or other autism spectrum disorders are not typically violent. In fact, people suffering from these and other mental illnesses are far more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators.

In the absence of more complete and accurate information about mental disorders–putting horrific crimes like this into a broader context–we increase levels of fear in our culture …

Stressed to the Limit. No End in Sight.

Monday, March 17th, 2014

file891237402521“Future shock is the shattering stress and disorientation that we induce in individuals by subjecting them to too much change in too short a time.” -Alvin Toffler

I received a call from a distressed mother last week asking if her whole family could come to see me. “I’m really worried,” she explained. “Every one of us in the family is completely stressed out, and we need to find out how to cope better.”

I am used to getting calls when someone is suffering from any of a number of symptoms-illness and loss, depression and anxiety, addictions, behavioral problems in children and teens, communication breakdowns in couples–but these days more and more calls simply describe unmanageable stress as the presenting problem. What is going on?

Signs of Stress in the Familyfile0001987619617

  • Do you or your loved ones have trouble sleeping?
  • Do you lack your usual patience?
  • Are members of your family irritable, grumpy or unhappy?
  • Do you have symptoms of tension–headaches, stomach aches, neck and shoulder problems?
  • Is there never enough time to do what you want to do or even to get things done?

If you answered a resounding yes to most of these questions, you are certainly not alone. Recent studies not only in America but across the world indicate that far too many people are suffering from the excessive demands of modern life. Stressed to the limit with no end in sight.

Causes of Stress in the Family

file0001246104116Not that much of this is really escapable. Stress is woven into the fabric of life. In days of yore, the stresses may have been different and were certainly less talked about.

Stress has been studied since the 1950’s by medical doctors as well as psychologists and social scientists. Whenever circumstances put more physical or psychological demands on an individual than that person can handle, stress is the inevitable response. When pressures mount up, the body’s natural fight or flight mechanism goes into high gear.

Stress is most likely to occur whenever the demands put on us are intense, …

The Age of Enlightenment or the Age of Entitlement?

Tuesday, September 17th, 2013

file0001348598223Fasten your seat belts and prepare for some disturbing trends showing up in America these days…Think about what these statistics and stories all have in common…

Spending More than We Earn

Americans spend 1.5 trillion dollars on their credit cards each year. Sadly, over 40% are spending more money than they are earning. Studies show that people spend far more money using credit cards than they would spend if they were paying with actual dollars.

In the ten years between 1997 and 2007, consumer debt went up a whopping 75%. In that same time period, the median household income did not increase at all, but that didn’t stop the trend toward spending.

Daniel Indiviglio, in the Atlantic, described American’s recent love affair with debt. He compared the average debt of an American in 1948 to someone in 2010, while taking population and inflation into account. His startling findings showed that debt went from $1,186 per person in 1948 to $10,168 in 2010, not including mortgages or home equity loans.

The False Promise of the Job Marketfile2461263253373

This trend is not explained simply by the rise of materialism but is also due to the trend towards sending more kids to college than ever before. The expectation that a college degree will secure a high paying job is, unfortunately, no longer a promise that can be fulfilled.

According to a recent poll conducted by Forbes Woman and the National Endowment for Financial Education, 59% of parents are still financially supporting their adult children aged 18 to 39 who are no longer in school. In order to do so, these parents are making significant sacrifices such as taking on more debt, delaying retirement, and denying themselves vacations, homes, and privacy. What message does this send to our next generations of adults?

file8811271718203Trying to Look the Part

In spite of economic trends, more Americans are choosing to do cosmetic surgery (rather than reconstructions after accidents or illnesses) than ever before. …

Sleeping Your Way to Greater Health and Happiness

Monday, July 15th, 2013

my_photography_199“A good laugh and a long sleep are the best cures in the doctor’s book.” ~Irish Proverb
Honestly answer the following questions:
Do you have to set your alarm in order to wake up in the morning?

Do you wake up your kids–before they would get up on their own–to be ready for school or camp?

Do people in your family wake up cranky and out of sorts?

Do you ever fall asleep watching TV, at the movies, or listening to a less than exciting lecture?

Do you or your kids crave sugary foods or caffeine in the afternoon because your energy is lagging?
WARNING! These are all possible signs of sleep deprivation.

Fighting the Depression Demon in Kids–Alternative Approaches

Monday, July 1st, 2013

file0001976662480“Music can lift us out of depression or move us to tears – it is a remedy, a tonic, orange juice for the ear. -Oliver Sacks

Although for some kids, finding the right medication is a life-changer, there are many parents who are adamantly opposed to putting their kids on drugs–particularly without trying something more holistic first. There is great news on many different fronts as well as new research from around the world, showing that there are alternative approaches to treatment shown to be effective in combatting depression in children and teens. Here are just a few of them that have recently caught my eye…

Depressed? Don’t Just Go for the Pills

Monday, June 10th, 2013

file0002105100289-1“The principle aim of psychotherapy is not to transport one to an impossible state of happiness, but to help (the client) acquire steadfastness and patience in the face of suffering. ” -C.G. Jung

Just yesterday, a friend told me how her family doctor prescribed her mother antidepressants for twenty years. She was outraged that he never encouraged her to get counseling as well. She believes her mom could be happier if encouraged to grieve the untimely death of her husband and directed to build a bigger support system.

Last week, a new client came in for help with anxiety, and her doctor told her she must see a psychiatrist—not a psychologist or family therapist. This was the GP’s advice in spite of the fact that the woman complained about the controlling behavior of her husband. Unfortunately, far too many psychiatrists now prescribe medication (usually anti-depressants but sometimes addictive drugs like Xanax) rather than doing psychotherapy or even suggesting it.

Psychotherapy or Drug Therapy?

This is no small question since one in six people will experience depression at some time during their life. Study after study has shown that psychotherapy helps people–and not just for depression. Given that therapy is available in many forms—and that low-cost or sliding fee scale options are available in most communities across America—why are doctors still not prescribing it as the first line of attack for depression and anxiety?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOne answer can be found by following the money. Intense marketing strategies on the part of drug companies sell every new drug therapy as the quick and easy fix–while only mentioning in fine print the negative side effects that typically coincide with any drug. In the blog I wrote about anxiety, I received numerous heartfelt comments from readers who became addicted to prescription meds being taken just as their doctor prescribed.

Perhaps there are so many different forms of therapy out there these days that doctors are unfamiliar with and therefore hesitant to make referrals. While it is broadly …

The Healing Power of Nature

Monday, April 22nd, 2013

P1010991“Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.”  ~John Muir

In my last blog on the growing numbers of kids being diagnosed with ADHD, I wondered out loud about the potential negative effects in our modern culture of things like: too much time spent indoors, too little sun and exercise, too many electronics, and not enough sleep. Rather than dwell on the causes of our problems, let’s consider what we can do to reduce the impact of stress on the lives of both adults and children. Not from a medical psychiatric perspective, but from the perspective of everyday life.

Ask yourself this question: Do you or your kids suffer from Nature-Deficit Disorder?

This wonderful name was coined by journalist Richard Louv with the publication of Last Child in the Woods. His newest book, The Nature Principle: Human Restoration and the End of Nature-Deficit Disorder, offers a new vision of the future, in which our lives are equally immersed in nature and in technology.

What do we already know about the positive effects of time spent outdoors, immersed in nature?

Rachel and Stephen Kaplan, environmental psychologists from the University of Michigan, are internationally known for their research on the effect of nature on people’s relationships and health.The Kaplans got involved in studying the effects of nature back in the 1970s, and since then have done extensive research on “restorative environments” to understand the psychological benefits of time spent in nature and what types of natural environments stimulate health and reduce stress.P1010931

In order to work or study efficiently, we need to maintain focused attention on the task at hand–something that everyone struggles with–most especially those with Attention Deficit Disorder or ADHD. Too much focused attention can lead to mental fatigue and increased stress. One remedy for this fatigue is exposure to nature. The wilder the better, but even a little bit helps. Office workers with a view of nature are happier and healthier at work; kids do better academically; hospital …

The ADHD Epidemic: Is There Anything Parents Can Do?

Monday, April 15th, 2013

file4851281024084I have spent countless hours in deep discussion with both parents and professionals questioning why so many kids are being diagnosed these days with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) or Attention Deficit with Hyperactivity (ADHD). Is there some causal contributor in our food or environment? Is it due to changes in parenting practices? School environments? The increase in technology in everyday life? The lobbying power of drug companies? All of the above?

What Are the Facts?

The number of American children leaving doctors’ offices with an attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) diagnosis has risen 66% in 10 years, according to a Northwestern study. “The magnitude and speed of this shift in one decade is likely due to an increased awareness of ADHD,” explains first author Craig Garfield, M.D., perhaps causing more physicians to diagnose the disorder. Researchers also found that psychostimulants have remained the most common medication, prescribed to 87% of children with ADHD in 2010.

No matter what the reason, it is frightening to think about.  Not only are kids being given psychiatric medications at younger ages, more young adults than ever before are now taking ADHD medications, usually powerful and addictive amphetamines like Adderall. In the past four years, IMS Health reported that the number of monthly prescriptions has more than doubled for Americans ages 20 to 39. The use and abuse of stimulants is on the rise.

Far too many kids, once 18 and away from home, decide on their own to get a prescription. Certainly some of these kids have legitimate difficulty keeping up with their studies because of real attention problems. Countless others look up the symptoms on the web and act the part. A 2010 study  by researchers at the University of Kentucky compared two groups of college students– those diagnosed with ADHD and others with faked symptoms–and found they were indistinguishable on the standard tests typically given.file000115070389 Once your kids become adults, there is nothing much that parents can do. But, is there anything you can do NOW to stem the tide? I think so.

What Can Parents …

Media Meteor Hits 33 Million Homes: Secrets to a Happy Family Revisited

Monday, February 18th, 2013

file0001807678131If you get the Sunday newspaper, you were probably one of the 33 million subscribers who saw yesterday’s Parade Magazine cover story, “The Secrets to a Happy Family,” by the New York Times columnist, best-selling author and dad, Bruce Feiler. Feiler is perhaps best known for his book Walking the Bible, also made into a wonderful PBS series. I respect the man for many reasons–he is a great writer, an intrepid explorer of diverse cultures and religions, and a deeply committed father. But the article, and other information gleaned from interviews with Feiler, left me worried.

Already poised to be a best-selling parenting book on Amazon, since the book hasn’t quite gone to print, I haven’t gotten a copy yet. Nevertheless, as a mental health professional with more than thirty years of experience successfully helping parents and families to be more loving and effective, I was upset by the article featured so prominently in Parade. Quite a publishing coup, but at what cost to parents and families? Here are some thoughts for future readers to consider:

 What credentials make Bruce Feiler an expert on parenting or on characteristics of healthy families?

Quoted in an interview on his Amazon page, Feiler proclaims,”As for parenting books, the biggest problem is they’re out of fresh ideas.” Step aside, mental health professionals. You have nothing new to offer. Besides, the “old” information, confirmed by thousands of researchers, is, well, old. Which must mean invalid, right?

Unfortunately, this just isn’t true. A body of solid research–and books that outline the findings–are there for the picking, and new studies on healthy families are being done constantly. Important findings are available from resources such as the National Institute of Mental Health, the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, the Pew Research Center, The Harvard Family Research Project (and similar projects in universities around the world). In fact, there are so many professional, competent contributors to this field that the amount of information is overwhelming. They/we are not out of fresh ideas.

Surprisingly, Feiler chose to ignore the usual psychologists and family experts, and instead, as stated in his interview, …

How's Your Family Really Doing?
Don MacMannis, Ph.D. & Debra Machester MacMannis, MSW are the author of How's Your Family Really Doing?.

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