Tag Archives: mental health

Incarceration Day

2prison-05Today I had lunch with an old friend from high school. We hadn’t seen each other in about 25 years; needless to say we had a lot of catching up to do.

It was great fun to meet again and catch up (of course Facebook provides advanced info). Beyond discussing our youth and mutual friends, S. and I have something else in common – we both work in the field of mental health, family and corrections.

While S.’s work involves hands-on counselling, social work and research, I interview experts and write about issues related to these same topics. We had a stimulating conversation about what’s at the root of offenders – what makes them tick and what many have in common.

This topic deserves pages and pages of research and writing. But, because this is in blog format I will get straight to the point: We agreed that mental health challenges and a history of violence and abuse is at the core of most offenders/offences.

This discussion reminds me of the painfully honest film that shines a light on offenders who have gotten out of the prison system and are trying to make their way in the world. Just thinking about A Hard Name hurts my heart.

While it’s easy to say: “Lock ’em up” (and so we should in many cases), dismissing or hiding offenders away in the prison system does not get rid of the problem. Having a better understanding of good mental health, neglect, and child and domestic abuse is the key to preventing offences and ripping peoples’ lives apart.

Maybe it’s just me but I feel like governments and the public at large are realizing more and more that good mental health makes a huge impact on society.

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?

While meds like Adderall or Vyvanse may work for some, others might be interested in choosing an alternative to Western medicine by way of natural supplement. Here’s an informative article* that may shed light on questions about supplements: https://www.cognitune.com/best-natural-adderall-alternatives/

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.

Please note: *This article was shared by agreement with myself and Cognitune.

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

For Extreme Parenting Read The Glass Castle

This post contains affiliate links meaning that if you purchase this book through my link below, I may receive a commission.

Have you read The Glass Castle? Written by Jeannette Walls, now a successful American writer and reporter, this memoir takes the reader on an unbelievable journey through a traumatic, wild, raw childhood in the American south.

Next time you feel guilty about not being able to give your child the latest gadget, activity or toy, read The Glass Castle – it will instantly make you feel like you’re the best parent in the world.

Even now on my second read, I gasp at the outrageous acts of neglect foisted on Jeannette and her three siblings by parents, Rex and Rose Mary. These children often went for days without food, heat, electricity, proper clothing or even needed medical attention.

Here are a just a few examples from the book:

  • In the book’s opening chapter, Jeannette, at three years old, is cooking hotdogs on the stove top. Her pink dress catches on fire and she suffers severe burns. Rushed to the hospital, she entertains herself by picking at dead skin, happy to stay in the hospital where she receives fresh food, enjoys a cozy, clean bed and has a TV all to herself. She’s not eager to leave.
  • At one point the family moves to Welsh, West Virginia. First staying with Rex’s mother and father, a dour, unkind couple, the family later moves to a heatless, rusted old shack where they sleep in boxes, rarely have enough to eat and are traumatized by river rats who sneak into their home.
  • Jeannette suffers a nasty gash in her leg from a rusty nail. Her mother takes a quick look and declares it nothing but a flesh wound.
  • We find out later that Rose Mary inherited Texas land from her mother worth well over a million dollars. She could have sold the land to pay for the family’s food, medical expenses, and education. She never does.

Sure, the family enjoys extreme adventures – moving constantly from city to city, state to state, and all four children learn more about physics, astronomy, art, history, geography and hard knocks from their parents and their own ingenuity than the average child.

However, it’s only through sheer luck – or a kind angel looking down on the family – that anyone in the Walls’ family survives.

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? 

Virtual Sunshine

Blue Skies, Nothin' But Blue Skies...

Blue Skies, Nothin’ But Blue Skies…

After a fun and fruitful winter break with kids, friends and family, the January blahs are setting in. Sure, it’s sunny and relatively mild in my city today but, still, it is January.

With school back in session, extracurricular activities beginning, and work deadlines looming, feelings of warm sun and spring air are still well beyond my grasp.

So, I figure, if we can’t enjoy the real thing, please allow me bring you a  little bit of virtual sunshine:

Kind Over Matter — A beautifully-designed blog about kindness, gentleness and love.

An Invisible Thread — An absolutely heartwarming true story about a woman’s “chance” meeting with a hungry, poor child and the relationship that followed.

Call Me Hannah — A relatively new (but very popular) blog created by a 9-year-old girl who wants to inspire others to be generous and open-hearted.

The Dancing Egg — Written by journalist Caren Chesler, this engaging blog (also featured on Huffington Post), features the musings of a woman who had a baby at the age of 47.

Character Community — A volunteer-driven foundation dedicated to “nurturing positive character attributes and enhancing York Region as a desirable place to live, learn, work, and play.”

Please let me know if you have other stories, blogs or sites that might balance out January’s mental malaise – and Happy New Year!

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.