Category Archives: Study

Mental Health Week 2013: Meds and Kids

Canadian Mental Health Week 2013

A Kids ‘n’ Mental Health Wordle for a Rainy Day in May

Greetings, Blog Readers. I apologize for the large gap in posts. I’ve been working a lot and getting up to speed on new content, technology, travel, etc.

Mental Health Week is almost over and I feel compelled to post something on this topic as it’s so relevant to my blog.

Recently, the topic of mental health & medication has come up. I’ve read quite a few blog posts and articles by those opposed to having children take medication for “minor” mental health-related diseases and syndromes such as depression, anxiety, ADHD, and Asperger Syndrome.

Beyond life-saving results for some, prescription medication can have devastating side-effects. From lethargy to increased anxiety, dry mouth, trouble sleeping and decreased appetite (I sound like an announcer on one of those pharma co. TV commercials!), the vast majority of physicians and parents of children with mental health disorders consider medication very, very carefully before introducing it to their child.

Many questions abound:

  • Do the pros out way the cons?
  • Will medication make the child’s life easier and better?
  • Does the child (if she’s old enough to understand) want to take the medication to increase quality of life?
  • Is this a “forever thing” or can he eventually be weaned off?
  • Will “talk therapy” combined with medication improve the situation even more than taking meds alone?

What are your thoughts on children and mental health medication? Do you have any experience with improvement or devastating effects? Did therapy help more than meds for your child? I’d love to hear about your experiences.

A Trip Down Bipolar Road…

Barry Shainbaum

Barry Shainbaum

I was recently introduced to Barry Shainbaum through a colleague. Creative leader, entrepreneur, broadcaster, mentor, counselor and “bipolar survivor”, Barry shares his history of mental illness and advice with us.

Q:  What advice do you have for children currently living with mental illness?    

A: You are possibly at the very beginning of a long journey — “a journey into yourself.”  The road to living with and possibly even overcoming mental illness can be multifaceted and one encompassing medication, psychotherapy and spiritual exploration.

Q: How has your struggle shaped who you are today?

A: My struggle of overcoming bipolar disorder was a tortuous winding road encompassing twenty years.   From an illness that came close to taking my life, today life is rich and full, both personally and professionally, with many creative ventures.  I have evolved to become a person who finds joy in each and every day, and in the smallest things in life.  I have also become aware of the power of persistence, hope, meditation, visualization, nature, love and synchronicity.

Q: Do you think mental illness (in adults and children) invokes creativity? Do you think people who haven’t “suffered” or felt pain can be truly creative?

A: The creative urge is often greater in those facing mental health problems, as there is a need to express the pain, confusion, and to search for meaning and joy amidst darkness.  Why has it been said countless times that there is a fine line between genius and insanity?   Perhaps, those with the most pain have to work so much harder on their lives, and often that means transcending boundaries.  I have also read that [people feel] joy to the same extent that they have suffered. I agree with that statement.

Q: Do you think society will ever be free of stigma or will people living with mental health always be stigmatized?

A: Stigma against those with mental illness is slowly being eroded.   The more that mental illness and mental health issues are discussed and the more that well-known figures come forward and talk about their challenges, the more stigma will be reduced. I see a future where, those diagnosed with mental illness are told, “In time your diagnosis will unlock the door to a life grander than it had been, had you never [been] ill.”

Q: What tools, tips, or resources helped you most as a youth struggling with bipolar disorder?

A: When I “fell ill” in 1970, there were not the resources that there are today.   As a volunteer, I currently run a men’s group at the Mood Disorders Association of Ontario and at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. I recommend that a person receiving a diagnosis of mental illness  begin [their journey] in the library. Read about the numerous aspects of mental illness: psychiatric, psychological, genetic, relationship, environmental and spiritual.   It can be overwhelming so read a little bit at a time. And remember: Life is full of problems. And by facing our problems, we evolve and grow.


Barry Shainbaum overcame bipolar disorder 24 years ago.   He works in 5 disciplines:  professional speaker, photographer, radio broadcaster, singer/musician in senior homes and as a mental health consultant.  He is also a juggler!  Barry is the author of two books:  Hope and Heroes, and Dancing in the Rain.  His website is: barryshainbaum.com

Damned if We Do, Damned if We Don’t…

Parent Trap

Parent Trap

As a freelance writer, I regularly receive articles, books, gadgets and expert opinions pertaining to parenting and health.

Usually I’m happy to discover new philosophies and content but, sometimes, it can be too much.

For instance, this Huffington Post article Anxiety in Children: Are We to Blame was shared by friends on Facebook yesterday.

The article is certainly valid, focused on the increase in “helicopter parenting” and our apparent inability to lay off kids and give them the independence they require. “…Seligman also identifies learning independence as a major source of growth. Kids need the opportunity to learn for themselves, the chance to make their own decisions and to see how the consequences work out.”

It’s a tough call. After hearing about an eight-year-old girl who was almost snatched on her way to school this week, parents have every right to be concerned about children’s safety.

Is it possible to encourage independence and learning while still maintaining a safe vigil? Where is that illusive line between hovering and respect, loving and awareness?

What’s your take?

Health and Wellness Scholarship

Go nuts! Image courtesy of NutsforLife.com

Go nuts! Image courtesy of NutsforLife.com

It’s a well known fact that nutrition (or lack thereof) is linked to mental health.

If a child is eating sugar-laden chemical-filled donuts and additive-filled juices dyed a creepy blue colour, behaviour and mood can be affected.

I thought I knew a lot about additives and dyes until I researched an article for KIWI magazine on Food Choices for Kids with ADHD. Some parents remove all dyes (blue and red are said to be the worst) from their children’s diet – often with dramatic results. I do my best to avoid artificial dyes which are added to cake icing, juice, sports’ drinks, candy, vitamins and cough syrup. It’s a slippery slope.

In related news: In January I was notified that I won a scholarship to the Institute for Integrative Nutrition’s Health Coach Training Program. I’m pleased to be chosen and am seriously considering taking this course. Learning more about the foods, vitamins and minerals that our bodies need to develop and thrive is fascinating. I’d love to help myself, my family and others flourish as a result.

Gluten-us Maximus: Does Gluten Affect Mental Health?

Swaying in the wheat

Swaying in the wheat

If you have a child with mental health issues no doubt you’ve heard that removing gluten from his/her diet may help improve symptoms.

Running the gamut from physical, emotional and mental health, there is evidence that a gluten-free and often times casein-free (milk protein) diet results in  significant and positive differences in both children and adults. The book Wheat Belly is a hugely popular resource on this subject.

Just type “gluten-free” into Google and you’ll get millions of hits. Last year, ABC News posted an article on giving up gluten. The doctor interviewed suggested that many people embrace it as a fad diet and only those who have a sensitivity to the protein should remove it from meals.

Me? I’m carefully considering it. Besides having family members who live with celiac disease, almost daily I hear about another friend, neighbour or relative who is ditching gluten.

Here’s an example: Over the holidays we had a group play date – four kids and two parents. While the kids were playing, the boys’ mother went into great detail outlining the increasingly positive effects she’s discovered by removing gluten from her family’s diet. From a decrease in tantrums (the smallest child) to a radical decrease in weight (the mom), they are absolutely embracing the gluten-free life.

Would you try removing gluten from your child’s diet if you thought it might help? 

SNAP to it!

Stop Now and Plan program logoWhat if, when confronted with a stressful or contentious situation, instead of instinctively fighting or fleeing, we made the decision  to SNAP – stop now and plan?

Sounds simple doesn’t it? Alas, if it were, there were be a lot less brutality and trauma in this world. SNAP was developed in the 1970s at the former Earlscourt Child and Family Centre, Toronto, Canada (now called the Child Development Institute). The program teaches children to come up with positive and proactive strategies and is aimed primarily at kids under the age of 12 who experience behaviour issues.

A more formal definition from the SNAP web site: It is a cognitive-behavioural strategy that helps children and parents regulate angry feelings by getting them to stop, think, and plan positive alternatives before they act impulsively.

More key info:

  • SNAP is available across Canada and is utilized by social workers, psychologists, parents and teachers in Australia, the U.S., Sweden and the Netherlands.
  • Its emotional regulation techniques are universal but social workers do tweak the program to accommodate clients in different regions/cultures.
  • Dr. Leena Augimeri, SNAP’s co-creator, explains that behaviour can’t be changed overnight but the techniques help clients to “slowly undo and unwind”.
  • The program is free of charge for clients who meet the SNAP criteria!

“Families are the key to success,” explains  Dr. Augimeri. However, she understands that sometimes “families are depleted and have nothing else to give...” Based on this, SNAP staff work with what/who they have in the program.

I was wowed by the awards and honours bestowed upon SNAP and its creators.

  • Just recently, Prime Minister Stephen Harper presented SNAP with the inaugural Prime Minister’s Volunteer Award. SNAP won in the category of Social Innovator in Ontario.
  • Last month, Dr. Augimeri was the recipient of the 2012 Elizabeth Manson Award for Community Service in Children’s Mental Health from the Department of Psychiatry at The Hospital for Sick Children.

If you know a child who fits the criteria outlined in the SNAP model, I urge you to read up on this fantastic program. If it’s not available in your area, try asking your local social services agency to adopt it or contact the CDI or Children’s Mental Health Ontario for more information.

Is Your Kid’s Glass Half Full?

Is positive thinking the key for kids?

Is positive thinking the key for kids?

I haven’t been feeling motivated to blog lately. That’s ironic because today’s post is all about positive thinking.

As a freelance writer and researcher, it can be hard to stay positive and focused. Deadlines and money are certainly motivators but when writers pitch ideas to magazines or bid on projects without an immediate return,

it can be difficult to stay on track.

What about kids? What keeps them positive and motivated? Certainly personality plays a part. My own children have wildly different personalities: one tends to be naturally upbeat, curious and positive while the other tends to be more serious, philosophical and wary.

Parents and teachers also influence this thinking. A study, written about in The Atlantic, found that parents have a role in helping children learn how to use positive thinking to feel better when things get tough. Re-framing potentially negative situations into positive ones helps children to cope with stress.

While I’m not going to suggest that positive thinking is the be-all and end-all of emotional success, I am trying to put into practice more of a “glass-is-half-full” approach. Teaching children to be grateful, optimistic and to re-frame situations is a life-long skill that can be used during challenges with school, friends, homework or family.

Do you or the children in your life tend to fall into the “half full” or “half empty” category? What have you done to teach kids to see the positive? I’m eager to hear your thoughts on this matter.