Category: Environment

Brain Trauma, feature2

Coping With Traumatic Brain Injury

70Anxiety, Child Development, Cognition, Depression, Empathy, Environment, Featured news, Memory, Mental Health, Neuroscience, Productivity, Sleep, Sport and Competition, Trauma February, 15

Source: Shine In Your Crazy Diamond//Flicker

Traumatic brain injuries (TBI) contribute to many deaths each year, and can lead to the development of secondary mental health problems.  The Centre for Disease Control has reported that approximately 1.7 million TBIs occur every year, and individuals with a TBI commonly suffer cognitive impairments and developmental delays.

The Trauma & Mental Health Report recently spoke with Tricia Williams, a clinical neuropsychologist at Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital, who works with children who have different forms of TBI.  Williams explained how to improve child development and mental health for individuals coping with a TBI.

Q:  What are the most common injuries that lead to the development of a TBI?

A:  A TBI is caused when an external mechanical force, such as a blow to the head or a concussive force causes harm to the head or body.  Motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of TBIs.

Other common injuries include falls (which are common in young children and infants), sport injuries, concussions, horseback riding, interpersonal violence (fighting, gun shots, physical hits to the head by person/object,) and war related injuries.

Q:  How is a TBI diagnosed?

A:  Professionals in emergency services diagnose a TBI in the acute state at the time of injury.  They assess the severity of the injury by checking eye responses, verbal responses, motor responses, and mobile ability.  CT scans are initially performed to rule out bleeding and swelling, and then an MRI may be performed as follow up.  Amnesia is another way to diagnose a TBI. The degree of memory loss prior to the event, and difficulty forming new memory can provide more information about the injury. The duration of loss of consciousness can also affect the severity of the injury, which may be ranked as either mild, moderate, or severe.

Q:  What is involved in rehabilitation following a TBI?

A:  In the acute state, the TBI is managed medically, including neurosurgical intervention.  Once stabilized at the hospital, children move on to rehabilitation.  An assessment of physical, functional, and speech abilities are conducted, and occupational therapists and speech and language pathologists then work with the children. Neuropsychological assessments are conducted after the acute state to help children transition back to school.  The children continue with follow-up visits to monitor the impact of the injury on developing cognitive skills.

Q:  As a clinical neuropsychologist, what is your role with patients who have a TBI?

A:  Children are seen as inpatients at the hospital after the injury, and are also seen as outpatients after they have transitioned home.  They can be followed for many years after the injury.  Typically, they are seen during transitional periods such as the transition from primary school to high school.  A thorough assessment of the child’s skills (IQ, memory and learning, language, processing speed, executive functioning, academic skills, visual and motor skills, socio-emotional status) are conducted and compared to previous testing to assess the child’s progress and developing difficulties.

Q:  What daily activities can become difficult for an individual with a TBI?

A:  Activities that can be difficult depend on the nature and severity of the injury, the stage of recovery, and how well they have been supported.  Common complaints across all injuries include:  keeping up with class, forgetfulness, difficulty paying attention, and becoming easily fatigued, overwhelmed, and frustrated.  Because these activities can be challenging, continued support from their physicians and neuropsychologists as well as family support is very important during the recovery process.

Q:  How can secondary mental health symptoms develop from a TBI?

A:  Depression is a common outcome, and can develop as a reaction to the injury or to neurochemical changes in the brain.  Anxiety is also a common reaction to the injury, because if the child is old enough to understand what has happened, they might expect it to happen again.  This is common for children who developed a TBI as a result of a sports injury.  Children can also be anxious about their academic achievement and about performing well in school.  It is important to make patients aware of potential secondary mental health symptoms. But, individuals with a TBI can also have a greater appreciation of life, as they see themselves as survivors.

Q:  What advice can you offer someone with TBI?

A:  Be patient with yourself and try to normalize your emotional variability.  It’s important to ask for and accept help, and to find the balance between accepting what has happened and moving on.  Individuals should keep in mind that while there are variable outcomes, full recovery is possible.  Finding a “new normal” for oneself without becoming centered on the injury is extremely important.

Q:  Do you have any further suggestions for coping with a TBI?

A:  Here is a list of helpful tips:

  • Take additional time on activities as needed
  • Manage fatigue (with exercise/relaxation, sleep)
  • Ask for repetition of key information and written outlines of key terminology
  • Repeat back what people tell you to ensure you are understanding
  • Use your phone or equivalent to make dictated notes and reminders with regularly scheduled playback times
  • Break down (or ask someone to help you break down) larger tasks into smaller manageable parts
  • Choose the time of day when you are most able to accomplish tasks that require more obvious mental effort and sustained attention
  • Recognize the signs that you are losing attention/productivity or becoming overwhelmed and take a break
  • Exercise can help relieve tension, improve sleep and attention
  • Seek out a quiet room to complete work or practice techniques as needed
  • Social support is extremely helpful

Traumatic brain injuries (TBI) contribute to many deaths each year, and can lead to the development of secondary mental health problems.  The Centre for Disease Controlhas reported that approximately 1.7 million TBIs occur every year, and individuals with a TBI commonly suffer cognitive impairments and developmental delays.

The Trauma & Mental Health Report recently spoke with Tricia Williams, a clinical neuropsychologist at Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital, who works with children who have different forms of TBI.  Williams explained how to improve child development and mental health for individuals coping with a TBI.

Q:  What are the most common injuries that lead to the development of a TBI?

A:  A TBI is caused when an external mechanical force, such as a blow to the head or a concussive force causes harm to the head or body.  Motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of TBIs.

Other common injuries include falls (which are common in young children and infants), sport injuries, concussions, horseback riding, interpersonal violence (fighting, gun shots, physical hits to the head by person/object), and war related injuries.

Q:  How is a TBI diagnosed?

A:  Professionals in emergency services diagnose a TBI in the acute state at the time of injury.  They assess the severity of the injury by checking eye responses, verbal responses, motor responses, and mobile ability.  CT scans are initially performed to rule out bleeding and swelling, and then an MRI may be performed as follow up.  Amnesia is another way to diagnose a TBI. The degree of memory loss prior to the event, and difficulty forming new memory can provide more information about the injury. The duration of loss of consciousness can also affect the severity of the injury, which may be ranked as either mild, moderate, or severe.

Q:  What is involved in rehabilitation following a TBI?

A:  In the acute state, the TBI is managed medically, including neurosurgical intervention.  Once stabilized at the hospital, children move on to rehabilitation.  An assessment of physical, functional, and speech abilities are conducted, and occupational therapists and speech and language pathologists then work with the children. Neuropsychological assessments are conducted after the acute state to help children transition back to school.  The children continue with follow-up visits to monitor the impact of the injury on developing cognitive skills.

Q:  As a clinical neuropsychologist, what is your role with patients who have a TBI?

A:  Children are seen as inpatients at the hospital after the injury, and are also seen as outpatients after they have transitioned home.  They can be followed for many years after the injury.  Typically, they are seen during transitional periods such as the transition from primary school to high school.  A thorough assessment of the child’s skills (IQ, memory and learning, language, processing speed, executive functioning, academic skills, visual and motor skills, socio-emotional status) are conducted and compared to previous testing to assess the child’s progress and developing difficulties.

Q:  What daily activities can become difficult for an individual with a TBI?

A:  Activities that can be difficult depend on the nature and severity of the injury, the stage of recovery, and how well they have been supported.  Common complaints across all injuries include:  keeping up with class, forgetfulness, difficulty paying attention, and becoming easily fatigued, overwhelmed, and frustrated.  Because these activities can be challenging, continued support from their physicians and neuropsychologists as well as family support is very important during the recovery process.

Q:  How can secondary mental health symptoms develop from a TBI?

A:  Depression is a common outcome, and can develop as a reaction to the injury or to neurochemical changes in the brain.  Anxiety is also a common reaction to the injury, because if the child is old enough to understand what has happened, they might expect it to happen again.  This is common for children who developed a TBI as a result of a sports injury.  Children can also be anxious about their academic achievement and about performing well in school.  It is important to make patients aware of potential secondary mental health symptoms. But, individuals with a TBI can also have a greater appreciation of life, as they see themselves as survivors.

Q:  What advice can you offer someone with TBI?

A:  Be patient with yourself and try to normalize your emotional variability.  It’s important to ask for and accept help, and to find the balance between accepting what has happened and moving on.  Individuals should keep in mind that while there are variable outcomes, full recovery is possible.  Finding a “new normal” for oneself without becoming centered on the injury is extremely important.

Q:  Do you have any further suggestions for coping with a TBI?

A:  Here is a list of helpful tips:

Take additional time on activities as needed
Manage fatigue (with exercise/relaxation, sleep)
Ask for repetition of key information and written outlines of key terminology
Repeat back what people tell you to ensure you are understanding
Use your phone or equivalent to make dictated notes and reminders with regularly scheduled playback times
Break down (or ask someone to help you break down) larger tasks into smaller manageable parts
Choose the time of day when you are most able to accomplish tasks that require more obvious mental effort and sustained attention
Recognize the signs that you are losing attention/productivity or becoming overwhelmed and take a break
Exercise can help relieve tension, improve sleep and attention
Seek out a quiet room to complete work or practice techniques as needed
Social support is extremely helpful

– Contributing Writer: Janany Jayanthikumar, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

– Chief Editor: Robert T. Muller, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

Copyright Robert T. Muller

Photo Credit: Shine In Your Crazy Diamond//Flickr 

This article was originally published on Psychology Today

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Ritual Abuse, Cults and Captivity

50Child Development, Diet, Environment, Fear, Featured news, Gratitude, Identity, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Sleep, Trauma, Trauma Psychotherapy February, 15

It is almost impossible to imagine the realities endured by victims of ritual abuse:  multiple abusers with systematic motives coordinated with the sole purpose of perpetrating and maintaining a cycle of abuse.  Cults and organizations such as David Koresh’s Branch Davidians use torture and sexual abuse to control their members and force them into compliance.

Behind The Abuse

The Ritual Abuse Task Force of the L.A. County Commission for Women defined ritual abuse as involving:

“…repeated abuse over an extended period of time.  The physical abuse is severe, sometimes including torture and killing.  The sexual abuse is usually painful, humiliating, intended as a means of gaining dominance over the victim.  The psychological abuse is devastating and involves the use of ritual indoctrination.  It includes mind control techniques which convey to the victim a profound terror of the cult members…most victims are in a state of terror, mind control and dissociation.”

According to psychologist Louis Cozolino of Pepperdine University, ritual abuse is characterized by a number of perpetrators of both sexes and the presence of many victims.  The abuse is often carried out in contexts where children are in groups, and within families or groups of families.

Often seen are mind-control techniques that involve combinations of extreme abuse and “brainwashing.”  For example, “psychic driving” is defined by psychologist Ellen Lacter (who runs www.endritualabuse.org) as taped messages that are played for hours non-stop, while the victim is in a state of consciousness altered by sleep deprivation, electro-shock, sensory deprivation, and inadequate nutrition.

Researcher Patricia Precin of the New York Institute of Technology, alongside Cozolino, report that many ritual abuse survivors suffer from PTSD.  Clinicians also see a high frequency of Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) among such adolescent and adult patients.

And in an Australian study of workers at the Center against Sexual Assault (CASA) including psychiatrists, psychologists, and other clinicians, 70 percent of all counselors agreed with a single definition of ritual abuse and 85 percent agreed that ritual abuse was an indication of genuine trauma.  CASA workers were much more likely to believe their client’s ritual abuse and marginally more likely to identify ritual abuse cases than other therapists.

Cozolino references a vast amount of corroborating evidence for the existence of ritual abuse, such as police reports and therapeutic case studies.  In one of his papers he describes one such case:

“A five-year-old victim in the Country Walk case related that one of his abusers at his day-care setting had been killing birds.  This young boy spontaneously repeated the following well-rehearsed prayer to his startled father:

‘Devil, I love you.

Please take this bird with you

and take all the children up to hell with you.

You gave me grateful gifts.

God of Ghosts, please hate Jesus and kill Jesus because

He is the baddest, damnedest person in the whole world.

Amen.

We don’t love children because they are a gift of God.

We want the children to be hurt.’ ”

Although such accounts are well documented, not everyone believes ritual abuse exists. Bernard Gallagher from the Centre for Applied Childhood Studies at the University of Huddersfield considers ritual abuse a result of erroneous diagnosis made by agency workers:

“This includes pressuring children into making disclosures, the misinterpretation of children’s statements and an over-reliance upon preconceived ideas concerning the existence of ritual abuse.  This results in what psychologists and statisticians might refer to as ‘false positives, ” writes Gallagher.

After The Cult

Escaping the torment of a cult is perhaps the most difficult part for a survivor, but recovery and rehabilitation can be just as challenging.  Cozolino and colleague Ruth Shaffer interviewed survivors, focusing questions on recovery.  They reported that the majority considered participation in support groups a necessary adjunct to psychotherapy.

It may seem counterintuitive to treat ex-cult members as a group because their abuse took place in a group setting.  However certain precautions may be taken to make treatment effective.

For example, British researcher Nicole Durocher notes that organizers must take care not to construct a group that resembles a cult gathering in any way.  The support group has to be sensitive to the special needs of each ex-cult member and to the particular context of the cult from which they exited.

The professional in the group must differ from those in other support groups, acting as an advocate-mediator to observe the group, identifying conflicts, clarifying alternatives for resolution, and negotiating compromises.  These support groups occasionally have the professional co-lead the group with an ex-member acting as an observer, guide, and consultant.

One survivor of multi-generational ritual abuse who wishes to remain anonymous, has written a public letter to the Stop Mind Control and Ritual Abuse Today (S.M.A.R.T) organization, reflecting on his own struggle with PTSD.

“My PTSD often reminds me of what it is to be a soldier.  On the battlefield when every moment is life and death, a soldier will do many things and anything to survive.  When the soldier returns to a normal, non-war society he can’t understand why he did the things he did.”

He goes on to say that with the help of therapy, his shattered life and sense of self can be pieced together again:

“I cry, I sing, play guitar, listen to music, sleep normal hours instead of being awake all night, and more than anything else, I try to change who I was… into who I am.”

– Contributing Writer: Justin Garzon, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

– Chief Editor: Robert T. Muller, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

Copyright Robert T. Muller

Photo Credit: https://stocksnap.io/photo/YN5H0VTR6O/

This article was originally published on Psychology Today

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Methadone Treatment May Prolong Addiction

60Addiction, Diet, Environment, Fear, Featured news, Mental Health, Motivation, Psychopharmacology, Resilience, Sleep, Spirituality, Stress, Trauma January, 15

The conventional treatment for opioid dependence is to prescribe methadone.

Similar to morphine, methadone is a synthetic opioid sometimes referred to as a narcotic. It is useful at preventing opioid withdrawal, minimizing drug cravings, and is said to reduce the risk of HIV, Hepatitis C and other diseases associated with intravenous drug usage. Methadone is also cheap, and best of all legal.

Despite the advantages, methadone is highly addictive, and has many side effects such as dry mouth, fatigue, and weight gain.

Treatment involving methadone requires a weekly medical visit to renew the prescription, sometimes leading those who are addicted back to the very environment and people that they need to avoid to stay clean.

The Trauma & Mental Health Report recently spoke with Leslie (name changed for anonymity), a patient who has been receiving methadone maintenance treatment (MMT), who says, “Sometimes I wait all day to see the doctor. During that time, you can’t help but associate with other users, hear “drug talk”, or even see drugs being passed around. The methadone doctor doesn’t push counseling and is not there for support. I’m only going to get my prescription.”

Toward the end of treatment, methadone dose is slowly tapered to prevent withdrawal. But most users don’t wean off completely. Leslie says she didn’t have the motivation or tools to do so until she started seeing her drug addictions counselor:

“I’ve been trying to get off of methadone for 18 months now. It has helped with the withdrawal symptoms, and life is easier to manage since I’m not running the street 24/7 looking for my next fix. And I have more time to get my life on track. But, In order to ‘knock’ the addiction you need to figure out what your personal triggers are. My counselor has helped me with this. She also provides a safe place for me to go and discuss my problems and any issues I have with MMT.”

The greatest fear is relapse. Although part of the recovery process, relapse can have physical and emotional consequences. But it helps to identify personal triggers: cues that provoke drug-seeking behavior, the most common of which are stress, environmental factors such as certain people or places, and re-exposure to drugs.

The most important missing link in MMT is drug counseling. Meeting with a counselor is not mandated and patients seldom see one. Those who seek counseling benefit from help determining personal triggers, and preparing for potential relapse. A counselor may help create a healthy living plan that focuses on improving mental health with nutrition, exercise, sleep, building healthy relationships, and spiritual development.

Better family relationships also help with recovery. Including family members in treatment increases commitment to counseling and also helps family members understand what the person is going though.

Opioid addiction is more than physical dependence. Initial detox is a start. Methadone helps with the physical aspects of withdrawal, and helps users lead a more normal life. But without the help of a drug counselor, MMT isn’t enough.

Without counseling, social support, a drug free environment, and the desire to change, we lead the patient only part way there. And part way isn’t enough.

– Contributing Writer: Jenna Ulrich, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

– Chief Editor: Robert T. Muller, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

Copyright Robert T. Muller

Photo Credit: www.123rf.com/stock-photo/lonely_man.html

This article was originally published on Psychology Today

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Book Review: Becoming Trauma Informed

00Addiction, Anxiety, Child Development, Cognition, Empathy, Environment, Featured news, Leadership, Mental Health, Parenting, Psychopharmacology, Race and Ethnicity, Stress, Trauma, Trauma Psychotherapy, Treatment December, 14

Red, and your heart starts to race. Red, and your palms sweat. Red, and the sounds around you blur together. Imagine becoming emotionally aroused or distressed at the sight of simple stimuli, like the colour red, without knowing why.

Because triggers like this can take the form of harmless, everyday stimuli, trauma survivors are often unaware of them and the distress they cause in their lives. And clinicians who practice without the benefit of a trauma-informed lens are less able to help clients make the connection.

To address this and other concerns, researchers Nancy Poole and Lorraine Greaves in conjunction with the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) in Toronto recently published Becoming Trauma Informed, a book focused on the need for service providers working in the substance abuse and mental health fields to practice using a trauma informed lens.

Becoming Trauma Informed provides insight into the experiences, effects, and complexity of treating individuals who have a history of trauma. Without a clear understanding of the effect traumatic experiences have on development, it is challenging for practitioners to make important connections in diagnosis and treatment.

The authors describe how someone who self-harms may be diagnosed with bipolar disorder, possibly insufficiently treated with only medication and behaviour management. But using a trauma informed lens, the practitioner would more likely identify the self-harming patient as using a coping mechanism common to trauma survivors, giving rise to trauma informed care.

Such care involves helping survivors recognize their emotions as reactions to trauma. And helping clients discover the connection between their traumatic experiences and their emotional reactions can reduce feelings of distress. 

Throughout the text, the authors describe an array of treatment options, pointing to ways they can be put into practice; for example, motivational interviewing to provide guidance during sensitive conversations, cognitive behavioural therapy for trauma and psychosis, and body centred interventions to allow clients to make connections between the mind and body, an approach that has become increasingly popular in recent years. 

Importantly, the authors emphasize that a single approach to trauma-informed care is unrealistic and insufficient. While all treatments should include sensitivity, compassion, and a trusting relationship between therapist and client, specific groups require unique approaches. 

The authors devote chapters to specific groups, including men, women, parents and children involved with child welfare, those with developmental disabilities, and refugees. They outline different approaches necessary for trauma informed care in various contexts, such as when working in outpatient treatment settings, in the treatment of families, and when working with women on inpatient units, where treatment requires sensitivity to both the individual’s lived experiences and environment

A unique and compelling feature of this book is the focus on reducing risk of re-traumatization, an often neglected topic. Responding to the need for trauma survivors to feel safe, the authors outline how trauma informed care minimizes the use of restraints and seclusion (practices that can be re-traumatizing), and they offer ways to reduce the risk of re-traumatization by placing trauma survivors in less threatening situations, where they are less likely to feel dominated. This may involve matching female clients to female therapists or support groups comprised of only females. 

The numerous case studies help illustrate specific scenarios, challenges, and outcomes of trauma informed care and highlight the growing recognition of the link between substance abuse, mental illness and traumatic experiences.

While the text is theoretically grounded, the authors convey information in a way that is accessible to wider audiences. It provides critical information for those working in the field by underscoring the relationship between past experiences and current functioning.

Becoming Trauma Informed delivers a deeply informative look into the field of trauma therapy.

– Contributing Writer: Janany Jayanthikumar, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

– Chief Editor: Robert T. Muller, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

Copyright Robert T. Muller

Photo Credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/auntiep/4450279893/

This article was originally published on Psychology Today

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No Place to Be a Child

00Anxiety, Child Development, Cognition, Depression, Education, Empathy, Environment, Featured news, Grief, Meditation, Mental Health, Resilience, Social Life, Stress, Trauma, Trauma Psychotherapy, Treatment October, 14

“If we are to teach real peace in this world, and if we are to carry on a real war against war, we shall have to begin with the children” – Mahatma Gandhi

Over 18 million children are currently living in regions affected by war. While most humanitarian aid groups focus on meeting the basic physical needs of these children, in the midst of armed conflict, cognitive, social and emotional development is often inhibited and overshadowed by regional chaos.

Exposed to violent, traumatic and stressful situations that threaten their sense of stability and well-being, children have few places to simply be children, where they can play, learn and socialize safely. And few resources are in place to help them heal from the psychological burdens of war.

As the need for rehabilitative and restorative measures gains greater recognition by the international community, a growing number of child rights advocates, organizations and researchers are stepping forward to understand the implementation of psychologically therapeutic programs for war-affected children. The challenge is in figuring out what is needed, what is available and what will work across a variety of cultures, contexts and settings.

Seeking to bring psychological care on a tight budget, academics and policy advisors have emphasized evidence-based programs. Theresa Betancourt, professor and director of the research program on children and global adversity at Harvard’s school of public health, and her colleagues are evaluating the effectiveness of child trauma programs based in countries such as Uganda, Sierra Leone, Chechnya, Gaza, Sudan, Kosovo, Bosnia and Croatia.

Individual therapeutic interventions such as trauma focused therapy and narrative exposure therapy have shown promise among children affected by war and are approved by UNICEF as preferred techniques.

Group interventions have been used to accommodate the psycho-social needs of a greater number of children. These include Interpersonal group therapy for depression, creative play, mother-child psycho-education and support, and torture group psychotherapy with cognitive behavioural techniques.

Some other psycho-social initiatives have focused on the creation of Child Friendly Spaces (CFS’s) and Temporary Learning Centers (TLC’s) within refugee camp settings or local communities. These provide a child-centered environment for play, basic education and socialization; and they identify children in psychological distress.

But some concerns have been noted. The focus on trauma can lead to community stigmatization. In addition, these therapies are hard to carry out on a large scale due to the high costs of employing highly-trained professionals. Individualized services are rare and reserved for severely distressed children, usually demobilized child soldiers.

Problems arise when trying to apply western definitions and measures of distress that are not necessarily applicable to other cultures and contexts. And in understanding any given child’s psychological functioning, it is important to factor in ongoing stressful events and the social dynamics that a war-affected child must deal with on a daily basis.

There has been a movement away from a traditional western “clinical treatment” model toward a more inclusive, holistic framework of “psycho-social intervention,” termed to reflect the complex interplay between a child’s psychological and social development.

More effective group interventions for children have tended to be those that involve a school setting, address everyday stressors, utilize a form of trauma/grief-focused psychotherapy or use mind-body relaxation and coping techniques such as meditation, biofeedback and guided imagery.

Benefits include decreases in posttraumatic stress disorder, improved coping skills, and greater psychological relief and psycho-social adjustment.

Still, universal, comprehensive, culturally-sensitive psychological services for war-affected children remain a long way off. For more information on mobile psycho-social and education programs for war-affected children, please check out The Freedom to Thrive Foundation. Email FreedomToThriveFoundation@gmail.com to find out how you can get involved.

– Contributing Writer: Adriana Wilson, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

– Chief Editor: Robert T. Muller, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

Copyright Robert T. Muller

This article was originally published on Psychology Today

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Dr. Mom and Dad

00ADHD, Anxiety, Attention, Child Development, Depression, Environment, Featured news, Intelligence, Leadership, Mental Health, Motivation, Parenting, Psychiatry, Psychopharmacology, Self-Control, Sleep September, 14

We live in a world of self-diagnosis. With access to online medical databases like WebMD and kidshealth.org, it is easy to type symptoms into Google, find a diagnosis and present findings to the family physician.

Self-diagnosis may seem harmless, but it can become problematic when we diagnose ourselves or our children with more complicated conditions, behavioral disorders like Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

The over-diagnosis of ADHD and the over-prescription of medications like Ritalin, Adderall, and Vyvanse (to name a few) have been longstanding problems in the health care community. Clinical psychologists Silvia Schneider, Jurgen Margraf, and Katrin Bruchmuller, on faculty at the University of Bochum and the University of Basel found that mental health workers such as psychiatrists tend to diagnose based on “a rule of thumb.” That is, children and adolescents -often males- are diagnosed with ADHD based on criteria such as “motoric restlessness, lack of concentration and impulsiveness,” rather than adhering to more comprehensive diagnostic criteria.

Parentsmotivation to get help for their child’s problems along with free access to online information may play a role in the over-diagnosis of ADHD.

A study by Anne Walsh, a professor of Nursing at Queensland University of Technology found that close to 43% of parents diagnosed and 33% treated their children’s health using online information. Of concern, 18% of parents actually altered their child’s professional health management to correspond with online information. Considering the questionable quality of some online health information, these numbers are worrisome.

Furthermore, as primary caregivers can sometimes be persuaded, it is possible that parental conviction of the child’s diagnosis may play a role in physician decisions to treat. With basic diagnostic criteria for ADHD readily available online, some parents may be quick to self-diagnose their “restless and impulsive child.”

“It sometimes happens that parents come to me convinced that their child has ADHD [based on their own research] and in many circumstances they are correct,” says Dan Flanders, a pediatrician practicing in Toronto, Canada.

 According to Flanders, there are certain traits that make a child more likely to be misdiagnosed with ADHD. “Children who have learning disabilities, hearing impairment, or visual impairment may be mistaken as having ADHD because it is harder for them to focus if they can’t see the blackboard, hear their teacher or if they simply cannot read their homework.”

Flanders adds that gifted children, children with anxiety or depression, and children with sleep disorders are commonly misdiagnosed with attention disorders. “Gifted children learn the class objectives after the first 10 minutes of a class whereas their classmates need the whole hour. For the remaining 50 minutes of class these children get bored, fidgety, distracted, and disruptive. The treatment for these children is to enrich their learning environment so that they are kept engaged by the additional school materials.”

Children with anxiety and depression can be misdiagnosed with ADHD because there may be an interference with a child’s ability to learn, focus, eat, sleep, and interact with others. For children with sleep disorders, “one of the most common presentations of sleep disorders is hyperactivity and an inability to focus during the day. Fix the sleep problem and the ADHD symptoms go away.”

It is, however, important to note that these disorders are not mutually exclusive of each other. “A child can have a learning disability, anxiety, and independent ADHD all at the same time.” 

While it is often beneficial for parents to consult online databases for background information, Flanders warns against relying solely on information found online because the information may not be up-to-date and cannot replace a thorough psychological assessment.

Why, then, do parents resort to this quick fix of information?

Walsh reported that parents use online health information for a range of reasons including feeling rushed and receiving limited general lifestyle guidance from their doctors.

Flanders points out that the doctor’s approach should always be to review the data honestly and objectively with parents and then openly present the treatment options available to them.

“The most important part of ADHD treatment is making sure of the diagnosis. There are so many children who are started on medication inappropriately. Throwing medication at the problem is not the answer unless the diagnosis is well established and the differential diagnoses have been exhausted.”

– Contributing Writer: Jana Vigour, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

– Chief Editor: Robert T. Muller, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

Copyright Robert T. Muller

This article was originally published on Psychology Today