Tag Archives: anxiety

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

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.

The Mental Health Blog Conundrum

Puzzling pieces of the heart together

Puzzling pieces.

This is a blog focused on children and mental health so it would make sense to provide comment on the Connecticut school shooting.

At the same time, I feel uncomfortable with people and editorial outlets that take advantage of tragedies in order to boost readership or bring attention to their own cause.

I thought about focusing on personality disorders since it’s said that Adam Lanza was diagnosed with such a disorder.

There is also the topic of the hugely popular (now viral) I Am Adam Lanza’s Mother post written by Liza Long. Personally I think she’s brave to write so honestly about her struggles with her child’s mental illness. There has been a huge amount of discussion on her stance as well as backlash aimed at Long’s bare honesty.

What I will say is that I’m still chewing on my fingernails, mourning the loss of those children, parents and teachers. I’m still trying to figure out what to say to my own children about the tragedy. I’m still pondering why this has to happen, what drove Lanza to kill innocent people, why he had access to so many firearms and what (if any) help he could have received to improve his mental health.

While we ponder these disturbing questions I will wish you readers a very healthy and peaceful holiday. Thanks for your ongoing comments and thoughts.

Tell Me!

Tell Me!

Recently, I received two non-fiction children’s books written by Leanne Matlow – a counselor and workshop facilitator based in Toronto. Her two books are: Thinking About Thoughts and Tell Me!

Tell Me!, illustrated by Tamar Tal-El, focuses on the worry, anxiety and concern that sometimes consumes children and teens.

In this short colourful book, a pre-teen is worried about her twin sister, Kim. Kim is dealing with an anxiety disorder and the book cleverly and clearly illustrates how one family member’s health concerns can radiate out to affect family and friends. Kim’s sister is frustrated because although she can see that  Kim is suffering and her personality has changed, no one explains what’s going on. She herself feels anxious and alone.

After speaking with her parents, our protagonist understands that Kim is having a difficult time. She begins to see a “coach” named Dr. Simon who later explains to her whole family what’s happening with Kim and how they too can help her out. “Finally, the truth!” says our protagonist.

Dr. Simon goes on to outline the four “superheroes” whom Kim uses to help stay calm and focused. They are:

1) Do-It Guy who tells us it’s best not to avoid; just give it a try.

2) Distraction Dude helps us focus on something else instead of our anxious thoughts.

3) Whoa! Man reminds us how to stop unreal, unwanted or unhelpful thoughts.

4) The Reflector assists us by reminding us of our past successes.

If your child is dealing with anxiety you may want to pick up Tell Me! and use it as a tool for meaningful discussion. Let me know if you do.

Leanne Matlow is a Professional Colleague of the Academy of Cognitive Therapy and an Associate member of the Association for Behavior and Cognitive Therapies. Leanne’s blog for parents can be found at http://lmatlow.blogspot.ca.

Kids’ Mental Health & Family Resources

Bringing colour and light to kids with mental health challenges

In contemplating the next post for this blog, I came upon an article in the Hamilton Spectator about the possible closing of Canada House – an eight-bed home in the Burlington area for teenage boys with mental health issues.

In light of this, I decided to compile a short list of the resources, groups and education services that have recently come across my radar.

This post also provides some background on mental health experts and online resources.

Please note: This is not an exhaustive list nor do I necessary endorse any of the following.

Canada House: This residence and its operator, Woodview, provides service to children, youth and their families with social, emotional, psychological and/or psychiatric difficulties. Located in Burlington, Ontario.

Autism Speaks: North America’s largest autism science and advocacy organization, dedicated to funding research into the causes, prevention, treatments and a cure for autism; increasing awareness of autism spectrum disorders; and advocating for the needs of individuals with autism and their families

Kinark: A range of treatment services including individual, family and group counselling is provided to children and their families within local communities. These services are provided to children who are living at home or youth living on their own in their communities, as well as to children who are in residential care.

Vanier Institute of the Family: Not necessarily a resource for mental health, the Vanier Institute of the Family seeks to create awareness of, and to provide leadership on, the importance and strengths of families in Canada and the challenges they face in all of their structural, demographic, economic, cultural and social diversity.

What resources are on your radar? What else should I add to this list? Feel free to contact me or leave your comment below.

Stress and the Working Mother – Q&A with Author Erin Flynn Jay

Erin Flynn Jay, author of Mastering the Mommy Track

Today I am pleased to post a Q&A with Erin Flynn Jay, author of Mastering the Mommy Track, which is hot off the presses! This interview gets at the (sometimes overlooked) aspect of mothers’ and kids’ mental health during difficult economic times.

Please note: some of the stats included in this interview (and in the book) pertain to American women only. However, much of the material – and sentiment – is universal.

Q) Chapter 1 is entitled Mental Health: I Am Overwhelmed – How Can I Cope? What surprised you most about the mental health of working mothers today?

A)  Many working moms are under tremendous pressure and are too stressed. Some have felt guilty for being employed while colleagues, friends or family members were laid off. Many of them are the primary breadwinners while their spouse or partner is unemployed, vying to get back in the workforce. They may carry guilt for not being able to spend more time with their children yet realize they need to work for financial reasons.

Q) How do you feel and/or what did you uncover about the impact of mothers’ stress on their children?

A) When we’re stressed, we have less patience and fewer emotional resources. This can render any mom vulnerable to using parenting strategies they might not normally employ. Child abuse increases during economic downturns. Moms and dads must pay attention to their emotional responses to their children. When you are stressed, your children will know it and will act out more often and more extremely. Children know when you feel guilt because you give in more easily and are less consistent. If you don’t want these challenging behaviours, you need to spend more time with their children.

Q) What’s the number one thing you can suggest for stressed out families?

A)  Keep your cool at home! Based on my interviews with psychologists, here are some tips to help you:

  • Slow down after work. Spend some time with your children, even if it is just 20 minutes before you get dinner prepared and cooked. Appreciate the small moments you have.
  • Set the proper example. Children look up to parents and follow their role. Make sure you aren’t yelling at your kids over spilling snacks or drawing on the wall.
  • Give yourself some credit. Commend yourself for getting through each hectic day. No one is perfect. You won’t get every project finished on time. Do your best each day and realize the rest will have to wait until tomorrow. Don’t be too tough on yourself – it’s okay to make mistakes. Let your children know it’s okay for them to also make mistakes.

Q) How has researching and writing this book changed your perspective on today’s working mother?

A)  I did an interview with AdvisorOne recently and spoke about how working moms are feeling the pressure from their roles of breadwinner and caregiver. It’s this pressure on moms nationwide–and the economic downturn–that motivated me to write this book… [In a recent study it was noted that] Employers will choose a dad over a mom because they fear that moms won’t be as available or committed to the job, said study co-author Michelle Moroto, an assistant professor in the sociology department at the University of Alberta. This is so unfortunate.

Q) Does the old adage, “it’s not quantity, it’s quality” in regard to time spent with children still hold true?

A) Yes, quality is paramount. Moms, don’t be so preoccupied with work or your career that you miss out on quality time with your kids. Ditch the smart phone for an hour or two each weekday so you can play with your kids or read to them. Limit the amount of TV they watch, and strive for quality interactions. Make the weekends extra special—take them on family outings to local parks, museums or excursions. Ask them what is going on at school, and they will tell you. Evaluate their current daycare or preschool program to make sure it’s the best fit for them and they are happy.

Q) Anything else you’d like to add in regard to your book and the topic of children’s mental health?

A) My research turned up a disturbing fact. With such intense pressure on career moms, many are turning to alcohol or drugs to calm frayed nerves. A November 2010 article in Working Mother magazine cites statistics that stress may drive more mothers to drink or abuse drugs. The article profiles women who suffer from alcohol and other addictions. Of those responding to the magazine survey, 40 percent say they drink to cope with stress, and 57 percent say they’ve misused prescription drugs.

Moms need to seek professional help or express concerns about a person they care about before it’s too late.

Erin Flynn Jay is a writer and publicity expert. She received a B.A. in Communication from the University of Scranton in PA and lives in Philadelphia with her family. You can order Mastering the Mommy Track at Amazon.com: http://amzn.to/PWThUb .

 

Expert Guest Post on Math Anxiety

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Math for Grownups

I’m thrilled to have Laura Laing guest post on my blog today. Laura encompasses an almost unheard of quality – a professional writer who’s also good with math. In this post Laura expertly walks us math-phobes (parents and kids) through the dark, mysterious world of numbers.

If you’re interested in reading about my history with math anxiety, check out my guest post on Math for Grownups X to the Power of Huh? Or, How Math Anxiety Almost Ruined My Life.

Raise your hand, if any of these statements describe you:

“I was no good at math in school.”

“The thought of doing any kind of math makes my hands sweat and my heart beat faster.”

“I’m worried that my child will feel nervous and not confident in math class.”

Anyone identify? Heck, I do, and I’ve got a degree in math education and make a living writing about math—for parents, schools and average, everyday folks. Fact is: math makes lots of people squirm.

And I’m guessing that most of you know this is not a good thing. Math is an important and absolutely necessary tool. But what are we supposed to do about our lack of confidence or anxiety? And how should we help our kids avoid these awful feelings—or worse become truly math anxious? Read on.

Watch Your Language

Ever find yourself saying, “I’m no good at math”? If so, stop it.

Our kids really do listen to what we say. And as much as we might think otherwise, they aspire to be like us. So when they hear us say we don’t like math or aren’t able to do simple calculations, guess what? They take on those characteristics themselves.

But that doesn’t mean you have to fall in love with math or lie to your kids about what you understand. Try these responses on for size: “Math isn’t my favourite subject, but it’s really useful” or “I don’t know the answer; let’s find out” or “I have trouble doing math in my head, but I’m trying to get better at it.”

Consider this: Would you ever say, “I’m no good at reading”? Probably not. And most likely, you’d cringe if you heard your child saying the same.

Insert Math Here

All of us parents know how to raise young ‘uns who love to read, right? We start by filling their nurseries with books and reading to them, faithfully, every single day. But math is a little tougher.

Or is it? Fact is, it’s pretty darned simple to sneak in some math that builds numeracy (the math form of literacy) and helps fend off math anxiety.

With little kids, count everything, point out geometric figures and ask which things are bigger or smaller. With older kids, put a pile of change on the table and ask what the total is. Encourage your child to read a digital and analog clock. Do projects that require math: build a birdhouse, plant a garden or sew a pillow. (And check out Bedtime Math for a daily age-appropriate math question that you can ask your kids.)

In other words, demonstrate the math in everyday life and let your kids see you doing math. Make math ordinary and necessary.

Be a Parent, Not a Teacher

It’s tempting to purchase workbooks and flashcards. But the real truth is this: everyday math is a much more powerful tool. And hopefully that bit of news is a big relief.

Unless you are your child’s teacher, you really don’t need to take on that role. For once in your life, you can do the fun stuff that really builds confidence and ability. For example, if your child is confused about a concept, ask her to explain what she understands to you. Having her teach you is a great way for both of you to learn.

During homework time, there are some really important questions you can ask your child, like “How did you get that answer?” In this way, you’re instilling a critical truth: math is more than the outcome; it’s the process. And you’re demonstrating that you care about what’s going on in her head.

Talk It Out

Just like with other childhood anxieties, it’s important to listen to your child talk about his feelings. They may seem overwrought or irrational, but research shows that simply letting those emotions out can greatly reduce math anxiety.

It’s also critical to speak with your child’s teacher. You’re not necessarily looking for any special accommodations here, but you do want the teacher to be alert to any problems in the classroom. And if you worry that she is sending the wrong messages, let school administrators know. Unfortunately, research shows that girls can learn math anxiety from their female elementary school teachers.

The more matter of fact you can be about math—whether it’s homework or everyday math—the better off you and your child will be. So make an effort to deal with your own math fears, as well as your child’s. It’s an investment that will pay off for both of you.

Author of //rcm-na.amazon-adsystem.com/e/cm?ref=qf_sp_asin_til&t=kidsmentalhea-20&m=amazon&o=15&p=8&l=as1&IS1=1&asins=B0057RIVYS&linkId=db05138c9b36b50a8b6e945ca0eef38f&bc1=ffffff&lt1=_top&fc1=333333&lc1=0066c0&bg1=ffffff&f=ifr” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener noreferrer”>Math for Grownups, Laura Laing blogs at www.mathforgrownups.com and is the math expert at MSN.com’s Mom’s Homeroom. A self-proclaimed math evangelist, she asserts that math doesn’t have to be your BFF, but you can get along in public!

Note: The above Math for Grownups link contains an affiliate link meaning that if you purchase the book using the link above, I may receive a commission.

New School Year, New Outlook

Bound for new horizons

Bound for new horizons

Like many children in Canada, today is the first day of school for my children.

Despite the hot, dry conditions much of Ontario endured this summer, it boomed with thunder, cracked with lightening and flooded with rain this morning.

Perfect way to start the school year, no? No.

Exhausted from lack of sleep (my older child must have gotten up about 18 times last night) and wet with rain, we scooted over to the local school and gathered in the gym. My son, whom I thought would be most nervous,  seemed happy with both his teacher and classmates. My daughter however was nervous, quiet and not pleased that one of her best buddies is in a different class this year.

As a parent I aim to present a positive, cheerful outlook without glossing over real anxieties. Honestly, I remember being pretty nervous about going back to school and seeing friends and teachers each year so why pretend it’s not a little nerve-wracking?

How will the first day of school pan out for my kids? Will there be cheers? Tears? Tales of gossip, friends who’ve moved, new teachers hired? I will discover all of this in about three short hours from now. Clock’s ticking…