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Protecting our Most Precious Resource

April is Child Abuse Prevention Month

Years ago I worked as a therapist in a quiet affluent suburb of Chicago. Little did most people know that tucked away on a side street in a series of unassuming red brick buildings, a teen residential program housed and was home to roughly 30-35 inner city teenagers. These kids had almost all come from a very disadvantaged background and were now considered “wards of the state.” While all unique, the kids in this program all had at least two things in common— they had suffered tremendously in their decade or two of life and they had survived.

I won’t go into their stories, because they aren’t mine to share, but I will say that I still can’t explain how I stomached reading their stacks of case files measured in feet rather than inches and wrought with details of who, when, how, and how much. They pushed me away, sometimes literally and often figuratively. It wasn’t easy to love children who had convinced themselves that they were unloveable, but I loved them anyway and I learned a lot about love from them. I learned about resilience and hope and vulnerability. I still learn from them when I replay our interactions in my mind. Usually, I smile when I think of them, because I remember the times that I came home exhausted from our snowboarding trips or our group art evenings or jumping rope or dressing up in silly costumes. Working with these children was the epitome of a life-altering experience. While I had long been interested in the concept of resilience, the kids that I served in those years were the first of many who utterly and totally embodied the spirit of a bounce-back kid.

Now I work with a very different population in a private practice setting. Most of the families who come to see me have many resources, most of the children live with a biological or adoptive parent or other extended family member, and rarely do the children come to me with stacks of papers detailing their time “in the system.” Most of the kids I see these days have not experienced child maltreatment firsthand, but these kids are bounce-back kids, too. Many have been through tough times— divorce, school challenges, acutely traumatic events, family conflict, self-doubt, friendship difficulties, worry, or sadness. They never fail to impress me.

Whether from a gang-infested neighborhood where violence is the ultimate in conflict resolution or from a quiet cul de sac where tutoring and swim team are the main events, children are deserving of protection and reverence. I urge you, in this month dedicated to Child Abuse Prevention, to think about additional ways to support and preserve childhood.

Here are a few things that you can do to protect children:

  1. Know your resources:
    Be informed about how to report suspected child maltreatment
    See Intuition Wellness Center’s Resource Page for supports
    Search, call your insurance company, or contact us to find a therapist
  2. Offer your financial support:
    Donate to Prevent Child Abuse America
    Designate your income tax return to the Child Abuse Prevention Fund
    Purchase a Child Abuse Prevention Specialty License Plate
  3. Bring attention to the cause:
    Wear blue or pin on a blue ribbon
    Share a story
    Offer education to others
  4. Surround children with safe caregivers:
    Trust your gut if you sense that a caregiver may not be a good fit
    Join a parenting group or take a class
    If a parent seems to be struggling, offer to babysit
    Watch for warning signs

My colleagues and I at Intuition Wellness Center specialize in counseling children, teens, and families. We have clinicians who specialize in cultivating resilience in your child. If you believe you or someone you love could benefit from our services, we are here to help. Call 520-419-6636 for a free phone consultation.

Written by Brandy Baker, PsyD, Clinical Psychologist

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Raising Resilient Kids, Part 2

A few weeks back, I ventured into blogland just briefly to share some thoughts about resilience in Part 1 of this series. A few days later, I was fortunate enough to speak to a group of parents about promoting resilience through an event hosted by the Northbrook Citizens for Drug and Alcohol Awareness (NCDAA). Through our discussion, it became clear to me that there is a common misperception that resilience is dichotomous—a have or have not—a pretty scary notion if you think about it and an awful lot of pressure for concerned parents to be carrying around. The good news is that everyone is resilient to some degree. The bad news is, after re-reading my last blog, I realized that I may have fed into this unfortunate misperception by suggesting that resilience is something only exhibited by the “outliers” in society. So, I’m here to clarify and maybe to put some minds at ease. Whether you consider yourself an outlier or not, you are resilient! Your children are resilient! We are all resilient! That said, there are things that can be done to maximize each person’s resilience quotient.

By Brandy Baker, PsyD, Clinical Psychologist

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Mental Illness Stigma – A Silent Killer

The stigma of mental illness is a significant problem in our society that may be killing us silently. I cannot count the times that a new client shook their head no while saying “I’m not crazy” or a family member pointed their finger exclaiming “I’m not crazy, they’re the problem.” I also witnessed many times pedestrians on the street, commuters on a bus, or shoppers at a supermarket ridiculing someone because of a perceived mental illness. Not surprisingly, the feelings of shame and embarrassment come to mind among others that would hinder one’s ability to seek treatment in the first place and take full advantage of treatments available for mental illness.

Unfortunately, that mentality is a commonly held societal belief that is problematic and detrimental to treatment. Consider some of the harmful effects of the stigma of mental illness as outlined by the Mayo Clinic:

  • Lack of understanding by family, friends, colleagues or others you know
  • Discrimination at work or school
  • Difficulty finding housing
  • Bullying, physical violence or harassment
  • Health insurance that doesn’t adequately cover your mental illness
  • The belief that you will never be able to succeed at certain challenges or that you can’t improve your situation
  • Stigma of mental illness is also a major barrier to psychological treatment because it prevents some people from seeking treatment in the first place. This is a major problem because according to the National Institute of Mental Health about 10% of adults in U.S. suffer from a mood disorder and another 18% from an anxiety disorder in any 12 month period. Only 51% of those experiencing a mood disorder and 37% of those experiencing an anxiety disorder are receiving treatment. To make matters worse, there is an overwhelming amount of research linking mental illness to suicide. The American Association of Suicidology reported that “in 2006, suicide was the eleventh leading cause of death in the U.S., claiming 33,300 lives per year” and “the risk of suicide in people with major depression is about 20 times that of the general population.” That same report cited research by Isacsson and others (2000) adding that “the suicide risk among treated patients is 141/100,000,” which is significantly lower than 20% for untreated depression.

    Stigma also prevents others from fully engaging or benefiting from the therapeutic process. Let me illustrate how stigma associated with seeking services can hinder effective treatment with an example from my clinical experience:

      About a year ago, I began treating an adolescent client who was experiencing several symptoms of depression, including sadness, isolation, irritability, thoughts of worthlessness, and thoughts of death, as well as attention-seeking behaviors. After a couple of months of weekly meetings with the youth, it became clear that she felt ignored by one withdrawn parent. She responded to that parent’s withdrawal by engaging in problematic behaviors intended to gain attention. I made numerous attempts to engage that parent into family therapy with little success. During one brief individual meeting, that parent stated “I’m not crazy, my child has the problem” and refused to participate in family therapy. Although it was beneficial for that youth to learn to cope and express her feelings appropriately, including her parent in sessions would have expedited therapeutic progress if the parent would have been willing to take a look at what their role in the ongoing problems were and make some changes. Moreover, it could have been fruitful for that parent also, as it could have provided some insight into their daughter’s problematic behavior and possibly lead to an improved and more satisfying relationship. This client went on to make substantial progress, seeing decreases in many symptoms especially thoughts of death, but it took many more months than if her parent had attended and participated in therapy sessions. Sadly, the youth’s relationship with her parent was not repaired.

    It could be extremely productive for children and adolescents to involve parents or guardians into family therapy, as this approach can improve dysfunctional interactions and poor communications that plague the family. Below are a few strategies that clinicians, physicians, or anyone else who wants to eliminate the stigma of mental illness might consider utilizing.

    Strategies for Overcoming Mental Illness Stigma

    Motivate. Many people will not engage fully into any activity they do not see a value in or worthwhile. The same is true for psychotherapy. Explain how counseling will benefit them, but be specific providing examples of how exactly therapy would make their life easier, happier, more fulfilling, etc.

    Redefine. Many people still consider people who are homicidal or psychotic to be “crazy” and the only ones receiving mental health care. In actuality, people seek treatment for all types of issues including behavioral problems, depression, and marital conflict just to name a few.

    Engage, engage, engage! Do not give up after your first attempt to encourage someone to begin treatment. Be persistent. I have found that it is useful to “trouble shoot” and find solutions to obstacles preventing them from participating in treatment.

    Educate. Information helps people make informed decisions. If you are informed about mental illness, its consequences, and its treatment, share your knowledge.

    Be Patient. Many people hold on to long-held beliefs due to societal or cultural influences. Be aware that it takes time to make change, especially one that involves reframing our worldview. Be patient and do not give up or blame the individual.

    Recruit. There is strength in numbers. Recruit allies such as family members, friends, service providers or others to help overcome the stigma of mental illness.

    Advocate. There are many local and national organizations that are fighting the stigma of mental illness by educating the public about mental health issues, lobbying congress for mental health parity and to prevent discrimination towards people with mental illness, conducting research, and offering support. Get involved! There are many ways one can take action and help end the stigma of mental illness. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) is one such organization worth looking into if you are interested in advocacy.

    Author: Dr. Yoendry Torres, Clinical Psychologist

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