What is the purpose of your blog? I am hoping to create a change in the conversation surrounding mental health especially for the sake of children. I grew tired of the public discourse: anti-depressants or not? I didn’t see anyone writing about nutrition. I didn’t see anyone discussing exercise. I didn’t see anyone taking a holistic angle to mental health for children and adolescents. There is so much more to add to the conversation. I wanted to open the discussion. We have to admit the medical model is not working. If it were, we wouldn’t have the statistics we have currently. A 400% increase in children using psychotropic medications since the 1980’s has not slowed the march of mental illness in America. A suicide rate that has doubled among teens in the last 10 years; a 30% increase in anxiety and depression among adolescents – these are horrifying trends. As a parent and as a therapist, I felt that we were missing some very basic connections and that is the purpose of my blog – to make the connections for people. And I want to help people. Ultimately, help as many people as I can.
What drives your passion? Children are suffering across the board. And the suffering does not discriminate. The rise in anxiety, depression, OCD, ADHD, suicide and self-harming behaviors should make any clinician, doctor, teacher or parent question what is occurring in our environment.
Let’s be real – the Influenza Pandemic of 1918 had nothing on depression. In 1918, between 20 and 40 million people were killed in a single year from the flu. Devastating. But what I call the Depression Pandemic of 2017 far surpasses in its reach and suffering. 615 million in 2013! 615 million! So I would extrapolate that the numbers in 2017 are climbing higher. Just because people aren’t actually dead doesn’t mean they don’t feel as if they are struggling with death.
It isn’t just about the increase in diagnoses. It is how we are viewing illness. Are we truly ill? Are the numbers accurate? Or are we viewing negative emotion through a lens of disease. Has our intolerance for discomfort of any kind led to an increase in illness? Does emotion belong in the medical model? There are too many questions left unanswered. Our health is a systemic issue. And, therefore, the system must be addressed. It makes me uneasy, to say the least, to see massive corporations (food and pharma) shifting our society in a manner I find morally corrupt.
I find the only way to effect true change is to create dialogue. To say current statistics on emotional health are problematic is diminishing the magnitude of the crises. And it is a public health crisis. I am passionate because our children deserve so much better than what they are getting.
What is your view on the origins of our rise in mental illness? It’s complicated. It is never one issue. Culture is shifting too quickly. We are consumer-driven. Cheap, quick, and easy with our food, with our medications, even with our relationships. We can’t place blame in one area but we are blame-driven. I get it. It’s much easier to keep your head down and look for a band-aid. We are encouraged to look for a band-aid. We don’t want to get at the underlying issues. So we seek distraction in a myriad of ways. But I think we are allowing the distraction to disconnect us. Technology can progress all it wants but being human will never change.
Being human will never change? Human behavior is rooted in thoughts and feelings. We will never move beyond that unless we become robots. And I am sure there are a select few out there working very hard on that endeavor. We can’t advance our way out of being human. As a therapist, I observe people. I love people. And I am finding we are having to learn to be human again. We are disconnected from nature and food. We are disconnected in our relationships. Disconnected in human contact. All the apps in the world can’t provide for humans in the way we need to be provided for…we need touch, we need eye contact, we need socialization (like real person socialization), we can’t purely exist behind a keyboard or a phone but we are attempting to do those very things. We are attempting to eat products that can’t really be classified as food. We are attempting to isolate. We are attempting to remain idle in our homes. We are attempting to short circuit our way to living. And all of our attempts are leading to illness.
What are your thoughts on medication? I think some may get from my articles that I am anti-medication. I am not. I think we overprescribe as a country. I think we seek medication as the first and many times the only solution. I am realistic enough to know that some people may need medication. And they may need it for their whole lives. It may really work for some individuals. However, I worked in the social work and therapy world for 13 years and I can say a majority of the children and teens I worked with were medicated and they were still depressed, anxious and continuing to self-harm. Even worse, their emotions were muted overall. And a frightening proportion were terrified of tapering off their medications, which tells me they were in some respects building a dependence; at the very least an emotional dependence. Are we teaching children to self-medicate? Rather than work through their emotional issues… I am not sure. But I think we may be. Many parents are unaware of the dangerous and counterproductive side-effects of prescription psychotropic medications for children and I find that to be alarming. So, no I am not anti-medication. A portion of our population truly needs the medical community. But I will never be a proponent of medication especially as the first line of defense. And I do believe we are medicating beyond what is necessary. There are too many valid avenues that are research-proven (if you need that), which can lead our children to healing in a much safer and healthier manner.
What are your thoughts about nutrition and emotional health? You may think otherwise but I don’t believe you have to be a doctor or a scientist to make the connections. We can’t raise our children solely on hot dogs, chicken nuggets, blue sports drinks, and fruit gummies and wonder why their brains aren’t functioning properly. I think it is difficult to wrap your head around the concept that nutrition is tied to your brain health because it has never been included in the conversation until now. But it should very much be part of the conversation. How is it possible for nutrition to only affect your heart health or whether or not you get diabetes but depression can only be the result of a chemical imbalance? It is not possible because it is not true. And you don’t need a peer-reviewed study to understand it. I think it is a matter of common sense. You might have to reframe the way you consider mental health but go ahead and reframe it because I am 100% positive this is the direction mental health is going. And I say, “It’s about time.”
What do you think is the solution? I’m not going to pretend to have all the answers because I don’t. The solution could be different for every person. But if I were to make generalizations I would say we have go back to square one. We act like humans. We prioritize nutrition, sleep and exercise every single day. No, we don’t have to join a gym. We have to move our bodies. We connect with our children, friends and family. We make ourselves available in real time. We enjoy time outdoors. We eat food that can be categorized as food. It’s unfortunate I even have to
say write that…but it is what we are facing. We work to reduce stress. Say, “No!” to more and “Yes!” to less. Seek a system of support. Because no one can go through life alone – and so many of us are alone.
How do you see the outcome? I think we are at the beginning of a paradigm shift so I am optimistic, hopeful, and excited! Despite statistics, it is a wonderful time to be alive because we have access to information that can change our lives. It is empowering to know we have the power to heal ourselves.